Wait, you treat what? I didn’t know that you could treat that….
This quite often is the discussion when we begin explaining the driving factors behind headaches, neck pain, ear pain, and jaw pain.
Most patients have not put together that the dysfunction in their jaw while chewing, talking, or sleeping could be one of the driving causes of their headaches. Some headache sufferers will admit to having jaw pain while others have not necessarily had any jaw pain before. Regardless, most did not know that their jaw could be connected to their headaches.
So what is jaw pain? What is causing the discomfort? And how is it driving your headaches?
Most people refer to jaw pain as TMJ but this is actually a misnomer. TMJ stands for temporal mandibular joint, of which you have two, one on both sides of your jaw. TMD is the term most people truly mean when they say TMJ. This stands for temporal mandibular dysfunction/disorder. The symptoms are popping/clicking of the temporomandibular joint, locking of the jaw (open or closed), pain/tenderness/tightness in the jaw and/or the neck, trouble with chewing, an aching or tired feeling of the jaw upon waking, sharp or achy ear pain, or simply having headaches.
What is the cause?
TMD is caused by a movement dysfunction in how the mandible (lower jaw bone) sits within its pocket (articular fossa) in the skull. There are multiple reasons this can happen. First, it may be the muscles and tissues that connect to the jaw that are overly tight or overly loose. Secondly, you may or may not be aware, but there is a disc within the TMJ which allows cushioning for the joint. This disc can create a significant amount of pain, popping, or locking of the jaw if it shifts out of its normal position within the joint. Thirdly, it may be how your teeth come together when you bite down, causing stress on the TMJ. Lastly, the neck and jaw work closely together and often when the jaw is moving inappropriately this also translates into the neck. As with everything in the body, all of these tissues are interconnected and drive pain patterns. The muscular tension from the dysfunction within the joint leads ultimately to the headaches many people suffer from daily.
What do I do about it?
Seeing your dentist is a great way to start in regards to evaluation. They will be able to rule out one common driving factor as stated above, that being the alignment of your bite. After this is ruled out, we can then begin assessing everything else that can be the driving cause of your discomfort. We will evaluate how your jaw is moving and all the tissues involved in its function. This often includes muscular manual release, joint mobilization, acupuncture, and often some lifestyle changes. The end goal in this treatment is to improve the movement dysfunction of the joint and therefore eliminate the pain and headaches, neck pain, ear pain, or simply jaw pain. If the true root of your problem is addressed, the likelihood of it return drastically reduces.
To recap, here is your take away. The jaw is often a lurking beast that is not considered when evaluating a patient. Be sure you have it assessed and addressed!