Hello and welcome to our November blog! The end of 2019 is fast approaching which means
soon there will be an influx of social gatherings, work Christmas parties and family get togethers
coming our way. What do we do at these gatherings? We talk, eat, drink… And maybe have a
good catchup or two! Therefore, it’s very important that you have a good functioning jaw right?!
Do you get jaw pain or clicking? Do you also suffer from headaches or neck pain? This month
we’re focusing on our jaw joints - what we use them for, how these joints can cause issues and
what we can do to help.
A bit of anatomy…
The jawbone (or mandible)
is the bone which hangs
from your skull, creating the
lower part of your head. It
houses the lower teeth and
attaches either side of the
head just in front of the
ears. Put your fingers just in
front your ears in line with
the ear holes, gently open
and close your mouth and
you will be able to feel
movement at these joints.
These joints are called the
or TMJ. Movement at these
joints occur when we open
and close our mouth during
activities such as eating
and talking. As well as
opening and closing our
jaw, we can move it side to
side and forwards and
Movements of the jaw, such as chewing, are controlled by various muscles. Three main
muscles close our mouth, and one main muscle aids with opening it. This makes sense when
you think about gravity's effect on the body. We need a bit more help to close our mouth and
bite into our food than we do to open it and let it hang.
Problems with the TMJ
A common jaw condition us osteo’s treat is TMJ dysfunction. This is a relatively broad term we
use to describe an issue with this specific joint which affects women twice as much as men.
Problems can arise from many structures in and around the joint, including the muscles, joint
surfaces and a small disc which sits inside. Muscle imbalances are common and can lead to
stiffness or pain (or both) when opening and closing our mouth. Tightness in the surrounding
muscles could be a result of trauma to the jaw (like with being punched or hitting your chin after
a fall), clenching when sleeping (known as ‘Bruxism’), a neck dysfunction/restriction, or from
dental problems such as having an uneven bite. People who are highly stressed will often
clench their jaw in their sleep, which may lead to waking up with a sore jaw or headaches.
Inside the joint itself is a small disc which slides and moves during jaw movements. Sometimes
this disc can become ‘displaced’ and may not slide and move as smoothly as it should. This
may often lead to a jaw that clicks or cracks when opening the mouth. For the most part, the
click is painless, however some people may experience pain alongside a click. In some severe
cases the jaw may temporarily lock, which as you can imagine would be quite distressing to
experience. Pain from the jaw joints can sometimes also present as ear pain.
Osteopathic treatment for TMJ dysfunction
Treatment for TMJ dysfunction will greatly depend on the cause of the dysfunction. A simple
muscle imbalance may be corrected by soft tissue release of the jaw muscles, joint mobilisation,
and corrective mobility and strengthening exercises. It is rarely that simple though. More often
than not, a TMJ dysfunction will come hand in hand with a problem in the neck and shoulders,
be it restriction of movement or poor stability and strength in the region.
An osteopathic approach to treating TMJ dysfunction will include a thorough assessment of the
head, jaw, neck, shoulders and mid-back (and quite possibly further afield than that!). Because
of the proximity of the jaw and neck, you rarely get dysfunction in one without the other. Your
osteo will question you about your occupation, sleeping habits, hobbies, and current stress
levels - all of which may be playing a part in your condition. If your osteo believes your TMJ
issues stem from a dental issue, they may advise a visit to the dentist for a check-up as
sometimes problems can be resolved with input from both professions. If clenching is an issue,
you may find it useful to wear a gum shield or mouth guard to bed to alleviate pressure on the
jaw and teeth. We appreciate it’s not the best look in the world, but it can be a game changer!
Stress management including breathing, relaxation and mindfulness techniques can also be a
great way to beat that stress in your life. Don’t worry, your osteo will have some tricks up their
sleeve for this too. Always let them know if you feel like you need help with this aspect of your
If you think you might have a jaw problem, then don’t keep it tight-lipped. Open up that mouth
and reach out to us (by talking we mean!). We’ll have you ready for copious amounts of food,
drink (we say copious, but we mean in moderation, of course) and chin-wagging in the
upcoming festive season before you can say ‘temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction’… Don’t
worry, we struggle with that one too :) #tonguetwister