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Natural Treatment Plan For Jaw Pain
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
During my first few years of private practice, for most cases of jaw pain and dysfunction, I applied a carefully executed manual adjustment to the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ), also known as the jaw joint, found in front of each ear. This is the protocol that I learned as an intern from a supervising clinician.
Over time, I observed that this treatment approach did not produce good long term results for most people. A few people experienced significant relief with a manual adjustment, but the majority continued to suffer with jaw pain and dysfunction.
In 2002, a young man walked into my practice complaining that he could not fully open his mouth because of pain in his lower cheek and jaw region. Whenever he tried to open his mouth, he felt soreness and tightness that kept him from being able to open his mouth fully and comfortably.
During our history taking session, I discovered that he loved chewing gum. If he wasn't sleeping or eating food, chances were good that he was grinding away on gum.
When I performed a physical evaluation, I wasn't surprised to find that the muscles in his jaw region were extremely tight. I found multiple knots that were quite tender to palpation.
I proceeded to treat his tight jaw muscles with some simple massage and stretching techniques. I also applied some stretching and joint mobilization techniques to tight areas that I found in his neck that were likely contributing to his dysfunctional jaw joints. Finally, I asked him to stop chewing gum.
After three treatments over a five-day period that was gum-free, he made a full recovery.
I remember this case very clearly because since then, I have used a similar protocol of massage and stretching to successfully help a number of people overcome various chronic jaw problems.
Here are some thoughts and guidelines that I keep in mind when looking to help people achieve long term relief from jaw pain and dysfunction:
Except for cases in which there is an overt subluxation or frank dislocation of the temporo-mandibular joint, it is best not to do any direct work to this joint. The temporo-mandibular joint has a disc that is critical in allowing the joint to work properly. This disc is very delicate and easily damaged when abrupt mechanical force is applied to the region. Such damage and potential ensuing scar tissue formation can create structural changes to the region that can lead to permanent problems.
Try not to chew gum. As I mentioned in an article that I wrote on why chewing gum isn't great for your health, over time, unnecessary use of your muscles of mastication can damage these muscles and the disc that lies in the temporo-mandibular joint.
Stretch your neck on a regular basis. Tight neck muscles and/or dysfunction in the joints of your neck can contribute to improper movement of your temporo-mandibular joints. For a description of simple neck exercises that you can do daily, view:
Apply pressure to your jaw muscles. Use your forefinger to palpate the muscles in your jaw region, particularly those fibers that are just above the sharp angle of your jaw. Once you locate tender points, apply deep pressure to these points with your forefinger or thumb, enough pressure to create a dull, achy sensation. Maintain this pressure for as long as you can tolerate it, or up to 30 seconds. You can do this several times a day.
Apply pressure to your jaw muscles, just as described in step four, but add slow, controlled movement of your jaw joint. While you apply pressure to a tender point, slowly open and close your mouth. Only open as far as you can without causing sharp pain. Maintain deep pressure on the tender points in your jaw muscles while you open and close your mouth.
Follow sound nutritional principles. As is the case with all of the muscles, joints, and discs throughout your body, your jaw muscles and temporo-mandibular joints heal best when supported with healthy circulation that delivers a constant supply of health-promoting nutrients. To the extent that your digestive system will allow, eat plenty of plant foods and small amounts of clean animal foods like soft boiled organic eggs. Lightly steamed vegetables and soft fruits like avocados and ripe pears are good choices because they don't require as much chewing as raw vegetables and crisp fruits like apples.
Find out if you are grinding your teeth and/or clenching your jaw muscles while you sleep at night. If you are, address this problem by adopting stress-relieving habits such as playing sports, meditating, praying, and writing in a journal. Emotional stress is a leading cause of developing tight muscles throughout the body, including in the jaw region.
My experience has been that most cases of acute and chronic jaw pain and dysfunction that are not related to an infection in or around the mouth tend to respond well to the suggestions listed above. I hope that these suggestions prove to be helpful to those who are searching for an effective natural treatment plan for jaw pain and dysfunction.
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