If the temporomandibular joint hurts and the tension extends to the neck and shoulder, this does not cause such a sharp pain as for example abdominal pain or headache. It’s more like a dull indisposition.
Nevertheless, you should not underestimate jaw pain or tension. Because: “Pain is always a warning signal that something is wrong,” says our expert Judith Höferlin, physiotherapist and owner of the Höferlin Institute in Basel.
Where do jaw tensions come from?
Normally, your jaw should only be strained during food grinding. However, many people who usually suffer from too much stress in their daily lives tend to grind their teeth. They use their jaw muscles not only for eating, but subconsciously for stress management, when “grinding teeth”. This can lead to tension.
The first consequences noticed first are usually neck pain. The reason: You perceive the pain in the neck faster than the pain in the jaw muscles because of the possibly limited mobility of the head or even slight headaches.
Jaws, neck and shoulders have a mutual influence on each other. “When the jaw muscles tense up, the neck muscles tense up reflexively. As soon as the teeth touch, the chewing muscles receive the input: Tense now! Therefore, the teeth should only touch each other when necessary – like when chewing,” says Höferlin.
This means that the more you grind your teeth, the more your neck muscles have to resist.
Jaw and neck pain are often related. © Burdun Illiya / Shutterstock.com The most effective tips for neck pain
Tip: Ideally, your upper and lower teeth should not meet for more than 30 minutes within 24 hours. If you grind your teeth, on the other hand, it is usually less than two hours. “The teeth should not touch each other at rest, the tongue lies loosely at the top of the palate and does not press against the teeth, the breath flows through the nose, even during physical or mental exertion,” says the expert.
How can I tell if my jaw is tense?
Since teeth grinding often happens unconsciously, for example during sleep, jaw tensions are hardly noticeable at first. “Often you don’t even notice it yourself. The partner hears it at night or the dentist draws your attention to it. If you are not rested, tired or tense in the morning, this may be due to teeth grinding”, explains the physiotherapist.
What are the causes of jaw tension?
The causes can be very different. Höferlin: “Among other things, malocclusions after dental treatment, an unfavourable jaw position, disturbances after accidents, falls or whiplash injuries can lead to jaw tensions. In addition, excessive stress can cause the jaw muscles to tense and cause pain. “Stress that manifests itself in teeth clenching or grinding can certainly lead to jaw pain,” says Höferlin.
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What can I do about nightly teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding usually occurs when you cannot turn off your thoughts when you go to bed, when you take your problems and conflicts with you to sleep. To avoid grinding your teeth, you should take a look at your evening program and possibly change it.
The physiotherapist has a few tips for a stress-free evening routine: “An evening walk, not an exaggerated TV – or PC – Consumption, and also alcohol should not be consumed excessively. It’s good not to take your everyday problems into the night.”
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Yawning stretches and relaxes the jaw muscles. © Shutterstock.com
How do I relax my jaw muscles?
The jaw muscles belong to the type of muscles that are regularly used without you really being aware of it. Chewing, talking, gnashing your teeth – your jaws have to do a lot of things day and night. These 3 exercises can help you relax your jaw muscles.
Important: Have you had problems or pain in your jaw for a long time? Or have you perhaps even had OP ? Then you should definitely talk to a doctor before you try these exercises.
1st exercise: jaw stretching
Do you know the pleasant feeling of a cosy yawn? It stretches the jaw nicely, which is especially good if the mouth has not been opened all day. This exercise is therefore similar to a yawn, combined with a simple relaxing massage.
To do this, first loosen your jaw muscles by massaging your jaws right and left with your fingertips in small circular movements. Then open your mouth as wide as possible without making it uncomfortable. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and then relax again. The whole procedure should be repeated 10 times.
As an alternative, you can also just yawn several times a day. This alone relaxes your masticatory muscle. Important: Your jaw should always be loose.
2nd exercise: jaw resistance
This exercise serves to strengthen the jaw muscles. Press your dominant hand against your chin, try to push it forward against the resistance of the hand and hold it there for about 10 seconds. Then relax and repeat everything 5 times in total.
Do the same thing with the right and left side afterwards. Place your right hand against your right cheek and push your chin 5 times to the right against resistance, then the left hand to the left cheek.
3rd exercise: jaw acupressure
You’re very tense? Then this exercise will definitely help you! By pressing certain acupressure points, as with a massage, most of the tension is released.
On both sides of your face, place your middle finger in the small hollow next to the earlobe. This is where your jaw joint begins. Press these two points for about 15 to 30 seconds. You feel an unpleasant pulling sensation? Do not panic! When you let go, it should ease up and the tension should have been released a little bit afterwards. Repeat this 3 to 4 times.
Tip: Do you sleep on your stomach or your side? You should change that, as it puts pressure on your jaw joint – it is best for your jaw to sleep on your back.
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A physiotherapist is the right person to contact if you have jaw problems. © Lopolo / Shutterstock.com
How can jaw pain be prevented?
The first tip from our expert is introspection. Since jaw tension or pain is very often caused by stress, it is important to keep an eye on your own body and its signals. Observe yourself in stressful situations: Do you know exactly what kind of situations cause stress or anxiety? How do you deal with them?
In addition, to prevent tension, you should consciously bring your jaw into “resting position”. This means that the teeth do not touch each other, the tongue lies loosely on top of the palate and does not press against the teeth. Then you open your mouth – this movement relaxes the muscles.
“Progressive muscle relaxation promotes self-perception, in other words: when am I tense, when am I not,” explains Höferlin. You learn to differentiate between relaxation and tension and can recognize early on whether your jaw is tense – before headaches and neck pain occur.
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Which doctor helps with temporomandibular joint pain?
The doctor often only prescribes physiotherapy. “The essential therapy for temporomandibular joint problems consists, in addition to the correct position of the teeth and splinting, in the therapy of the musculature, relaxation and coordination, as well as in changing behaviour and perception when grinding and pressing. The physiotherapist manages all this”, says our expert.
However, there are also dentists who specialize in temporomandibular joint problems (called craniomandibular dysfunction). “It is worth asking in advance. Orthodontists, oral surgeons or physiotherapists can also help with jaw tension or pain,” said Höferlin.
You usually strain your jaw muscles unconsciously – this can quickly lead to tension, which can be felt as unpleasant pain. You should not underestimate jaw pain. If it does not go away after careful stretching and loosening exercises, talk to a dentist or physiotherapist.