How to Loosen and Relieve Tension in Tight Jaw Muscles

It’s easy to overlook the physical manifestations of stress or tension, especially because our bodies experience many stressors each day. While you may be able to ignore pain coming from your jaw, tight jaw muscles can lead to additional pain in your head, teeth, neck, and shoulders. If you’re suffering from tight jaw muscles, we’ve outlined a few techniques to help loosen them to find relief. 

Women with a headache

What Causes Tight Jaw Muscles?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint like the ones in your shoulders. Just like other parts of the body, your jaw can fall victim to tension and overexertion. It’s important to note that one issue may not be the sole reason for tight jaw muscles. Stress, anxiety, grinding your teeth, and medical conditions such as arthritis can all contribute to tightness in your jaw. 

What are the Symptoms of Tight Jaw Muscles? 

While jaw tension can be hard to identify, identifying telltale symptoms early on may help to prevent more severe conditions later on. Common symptoms include:

  • Jaw pain: A persistent, aching feeling in your jaw area is a clear sign of muscle tension.
  • Headaches: Tension in the jaw may radiate to the temples, causing an increase in dull, throbbing headaches. 
  • Clicking or popping sounds: If your jaw clicks or pops when you open and close your mouth, you may be suffering from muscle tension.
  • Difficulty opening or closing the mouth: Tight muscles in your jaw may restrict your range of motion. 
  • Facial discomfort: Discomfort in the cheeks or around the ears can be linked to jaw tension.

How to Loosen Tight Jaw Muscles

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with relief methods you can use in your day-to-day routine. Be sure to try a variety of techniques to find the best solution for your jaw pain. 

Heat and Cold Therapy

Rotating between hot and cold compresses can help to reduce inflammation in your jaw. Also known as contrast therapy, ice packs will decrease blood flow, while warm compresses increase it. Alternating the two helps to reduce inflammation, encourage circulation, and loosen tight muscles. 

Stretching Exercises

Simple jaw-stretching exercises promote flexibility and work to relieve tension in your jaw muscles. Performing stretching exercises two times daily for 30 seconds works to release the muscles in your jaw without causing you too much pain. 

Relaxation Techniques

You may notice that your jaw clenches throughout the day—sometimes without you even noticing. Introducing mindfulness, meditation, or breathing exercises into your daily routine gives you an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and notice any areas of tension. These techniques serve as a gentle reminder to unclench your jaw muscles and any other parts of your body where you’re holding stress. 

Diet and Hydration

Alleviate jaw tension by staying hydrated and away from hard-to-chew foods. You’ll want to avoid excessively chewy, crispy, crunchy, and tough foods that could put extra strain on your jaw muscles. 

Posture Correction

Poor posture can lead to a list of complications, including increased tension in your jaw muscles. Positions, where your head leans forward for extended periods of time (i.e. sitting at a desk), put extra strain on your neck and jaw, leading to pain or difficulty opening your jaw. 

Seeking Professional Help

If you’re experiencing persistent or severe jaw muscle tightness and associated symptoms, seeking professional help is essential. Dentists, orthodontists, and physical therapists can offer valuable guidance and work to find the source of your jaw pain. They may recommend treatments such as splints, dental adjustments, or specialized exercises that address your pain and discomfort. 

Find Jaw Relief with Carolina TMJ

Take back your life when you work with our team at Carolina TMJ & Facial Pain Center. We work diligently to address our patients’ concerns and identify solutions to alleviate jaw pain. Schedule your appointment today.

Closed Lock: How to Unlock a Locked Jaw?

How to Unlock a Locked Jaw?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) facilitates movement in the lower jaw with the help of the articular disc. Lockjaw is a symptom of a dysfunctional TMJ, making it difficult to open or close your lower jaw.

What is Lockjaw?

Lockjaw is a condition in which the lower jaw gets stuck in an open or closed position.

  • Closed lock: Most commonly identified when a person is experiencing difficulty opening their mouth. The mouth is unable to open to the standard 2-inch distance between the upper and lower teeth, typically limited to around one inch.
  • Open lock: People experiencing an open lock are unable to close their jaw to bring their teeth together.

How Does a Closed Lockjaw Happen?

The articular disc is an elastic piece of cartilage wedged between two elements in the TMJ. It enables smooth, flexible movement of the lower jaw and is held in place by ligaments. TMJ disorders, periodontal infections, or previous injuries can damage the ligaments, increasing the chances of an articular disc displacement. Hearing clicks or pops upon movement of the jaw often indicates that the articular disc isn’t functioning correctly.

Lockjaw occurs when the articular disc isn’t pulled back into place, resulting in the lower jaw getting stuck. While relatively uncommon, closed locks can be treated.

What Can I Do to Unlock My Locked Jaw?

You can do a few things at home to unlock your jaw, but it’s critical to see a TMJ specialist if they don’t work. Some closed locks won’t resolve on their own, meaning time is of the essence for treatment.

Try to Stay Calm

Your jaw is less likely to unlock if the muscles are clenched from stress. Try to stay calm to avoid adding more tension to the joint.

Apply a Warm Compress

Apply heat to your jaw for 10-15 minutes to help ease tension and reduce muscle spasms. A warm compress should always be applied before you attempt to massage or unlock your jaw. You can do this multiple times a day to help manage your locked jaw.

Massage Your Jaw

A gentle massage can improve blood flow and reduce tension in the lower jaw. Place 2-3 fingers just below your cheekbone and knead in circular motions for a few minutes. Afterward, gently try to move your jaw from side to side.

Treating a Closed Lock Jaw

The best chance for unlocking occurs within the first few days, so contacting a TMJ doctor as soon as the lock occurs is crucial. 30-day treatment with custom orthotics and closed lock procedures will help reduce inflammation, and in some cases, the normal range of motion may be restored. Over 30 days decrease the chances of being unlocked secondary to disc changes.

It’s important to understand that once unlocked, you may develop a clicking or popping sound on the side that was locked. Below is a list of treatment recommendations for a closed lock:

  • Removable Orthotics
  • Low-Level Light Therapy (LLLT)
  • Trigger Point Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Injection Therapy
  • Botox Injections (after inflammation is reduced)

How Carolina TMJ Can Help

If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort from TMJ dysfunction, consider visiting a dentist trained in TMJ disorders. Visit Dr. Tracy Davidian to learn more and find an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Dr. Tracy Davidian Featured in Midtown Magazine

Dr. Tracy in Midtown Magazine

Midtown Magazine featured Dr. Tracy Davidian of Carolina TMJ & Facial Pain Center in their 2021 Meet The Doctors series. This annual series highlights some of the most exceptional healthcare providers in the Triangle. 

Averaging over 140,000 readers for each issue and nearly one million readers annually, Midtown Magazine is a respected voice in the Raleigh area. Dr. Davidian is honored to be included in 2021 Meet The Doctors. 
You can pick up the September/October 2021 issue with Dr. Davidian’s feature at over 500 local businesses, at Midtown and Cary Living events, or with a subscription to the magazine.

My Aching Ear

My Ear Hurts! What Does This Mean?

ear-pain2“My ear hurts but I have gone to the doctor several times begging for an antibiotic and he keeps telling me that my ear looks fine!”
This is more common than you may think.  Many of my patients have complained about this.  They present with severe ear pain and pressure, some eye pain or pressure, pain around the temple area, and sometimes sensitive upper teeth.  How could this not be an infection of some sort….right?  Well the truth is, you may be suffering from temporal tendonitis.

What is Temporal Tendonitis?

Temporal tendonitis is a craniofacial pain disorder which results in the inflammation of the temporal tendon which connects the temporalis muscle on the side of the head to the mandible, or lower jaw, on the coronoid process.

Temporalis Muscle attaches to the lower jaw (mandible) on the Coronoid Process by the Temporal Tendon

After our examination, I usually discover signs of occlusal wear on a patient’s teeth, possible arthritis occurring in a patients joint, or a history of clenching.  All of these, and other predisposed conditions, can contribute to temporal tendon inflammation.

If a patient has an irritated temporal tendon prior to a dental procedure (or any of the other reasons listed above), it is more likely that they will develop a tendonitis after the procedure is completed (or after taxing the tendon through normal function: yawning, eating, etc).

What Causes Temporal Tendonitis?

You may develop temporal tendonitis from:

  • Trauma to the side of your face/head
  • Being opened really wide for a long period of time for a dental procedure
  • Yawning really wide
  • Eating very hard foods
  • Loss of vertical dimension of occlusion (the distance between your nose and chin is shorter than it was when you were younger – you are becoming over-closed)
  • Chronic parafunction (your bite is off and your teeth do not come together appropriately)
  • Hypertrophy of the coronoid process (your coronoid process, a part of your lower jaw, becomes larger than it once was)

Temporal Tendonitis Symptoms

If you have one or more of the causes of temporal tendonitis listed above and experience one or more of these symptoms, it’s time to give us a call:

  • TMJ pain
  • Eye pain
  • Ear pain and pressure or congestion
  • Limitation in opening the mouth
  • Pain/pressure behind the eye
  • Temporal head pain that can radiate to the forehead
  • Pain and/or swelling in the cheek
  • Sensitivity of the teeth, particularly the upper maxillary teeth

How Do You Treat Temporal Tendonitis?

Treatment of temporal tendonitis can involve multiple processes such as:

  • Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • A soft diet
  • Splints/orthotics
  • Physical therapy
  • Biofeedback if clenching related
  • Injection therapy with a long lasting local anesthetic and a steroid, sarapin, or prolotherapy

Temporal tendonitis is harder to treat through medication alone.  We have several ways that we treat this condition successfully in our practice every day.  Proper diagnosing is crucial and allows us to create your ideal treatment plan.

If you believe that you may be suffering from Temporal Tendonitis, we can help you! Call us today for an evaluation and treatment and be done with that ear pain once and for all!

Dr. Tracy Davidian

Fellow of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain

Fellow of the Las Vegas Institute of Neuromuscular Dentistry

919-366-PAIN (7246)

Can a Dentist Help You Sleep Better?

man sleeping
Dr. Tracy Davidian is bringing revolutionary sleep treatments to the Triangle. Dr. Davidian uses state-of-the-art technology to treat snoring and sleep apnea.

Sleep disorders are a bigger problem than most people think. Disorders like sleep apnea disrupt more than just a good night’s sleep and hard day’s work. Over time, it’s a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other serious conditions.
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