Jaw hurts while chewing and eating

Look at that juicy, mouth-watering burger with smoked bacon, topped with caramelized balsamic onion, chanterelle mushroom, grilled pineapple and three kinds of cheeses.  Hmmm…high cholesterol burger.  You can’t wait to sink your teeth into one of the best burgers that was ever yanked out of a cow.  But wait, you can’t eat solid foods.  Your jaw hurts when you chew.  Your jaw also clicks and crackles when you chew and talk.  

 Each time you talk or chew you move the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).  If your jaw hurts, clicks, pops or loses its ability to open fully, then you’re not alone.  The prevalence of TMJ or jaw dysfunction in the general population is about 25%.  The TMJ is a complex junction in your skull which incorporates a disk, masticatory muscles and the interaction with your neck. 

 There are four main categories of TMJ disorders: myofascial pain, internal derangement, degenerative arthritis, and infection.  It’s beyond the scope of this article for me to discuss all of these TMJ disorders.  However, myofascial pain involving the digastrics, masseter and lateral pterygoid muscles affecting the TMJ is the most common.  Prolong opening of your mouth during dental work can negatively impact the function of your TMJ due to the stress and strain of the temporomandibular joint capsule and ligaments.   Whiplash injuries, bad head-neck posture, and chronic shoulder and neck pain can also contribute to TMJ pain. 

 Early signs of TMJ dysfunction vary from one person to another.  However, it’s commonly reported that headache, facial pain, jaw pain, impaired jaw mobility, clicking or crepitus, pain in the ear and masticatory muscles, stuffy sensation in the ears and dizzy spells are associated with TMJ dysfunction.  Chronic TMJ dysfunction can also cause you to grind and clench your teeth at night.

 If there is no resolution to your TMJ problem despite consulting with a dentist and wearing a mouth guard at night, who do you turn to?   Well, you can consult with a chiropractor who specializes in treating TMJ problems.  Whether it’s capsulitis, synovitis, meniscal derangement, tendonitis or degenerative arthritis, chiropractic, manual and soft tissue treatments have been shown to be successful in treating TMJ pain.

 You can do a few things to minimize your jaw pain until you have it assessed by a professional.  Avoid chewing gums, yawning fully or eating solid foods.  You might have to go on a soup, stew or mashed food diet until the pain subsides.  I often suggest this stretching exercise to my TMJ patients:

  • Sit in a relaxed and comfortable position. Now place your tongue in contact with the hard palate as far back as possible while keeping your jaw in a retracted position. Maintaining your tongue and jaw in this position, slowly and rhythmically open your mouth in a limited range ten times. When you finished with this warm up exercise, open your mouth as wide as possible within the pain-free limit and hold this open mouth position for about five seconds. Now relax and close your mouth for five seconds. Repeat this exercise two to three times a day.