Jaw pain can often be caused by problems with the TMJ or (temporomandibular joint). The TMJ is a hinge joint that joins your jaw bone to the bones of your skull. The joint sits just in front of your ear and allows you to move your jaw up and down, and side to side, these movements are involved in talking, chewing and yawning.
Problems with the TMJ can be characterised by:
- Pain in the jaw, face, ear, or neck typically when you chew, speak or try to open your mouth wide.
- Jaws that ‘locks’ either open or closed.
- Grating or popping sounds when opening and closing your mouth.
- Feeling as though the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly.
- Toothaches, headaches, dizziness, earaches, tinnitus and neck pain may also be associated with a problem in the TMJ.
In combination with management from your dentist, physiotherapy can provide relief from these symptoms. Often jaw pain or TMJ problems result from myofascial trigger points in the muscles surrounding the jaw. Trigger points develop when muscles are overloaded. This can result from misalignment of the jaw or issues such as grinding your teeth, eating crunchy food or even just from chewing gum.
In other cases trigger points and jaw pain can result from a trauma such as a car accident, direct blow to the face or a fall. Your physiotherapist will assess your condition by taking a detailed history of your problem carrying out a full assessment. If the muscles are found to be contributing to your pain then there are a number of techniques your physiotherapist may use including dry needling. Dry needling of the relevant muscles such as trapezius, masseter and temporalis may be suggested. This has been shown to be an effective treatment for jaw pain. Other contributing factors such as stiffness in the jaw or neck joints and issues with posture and motor control will also be assessed and treated as appropriate. In some cases referral to your dentist may be necessary to get the best results.