Temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect the mandible joint on the lower part of the jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, and you use them constantly when you perform actions such as eating and talking. TMJ pain occurs because of injury, overuse, or progressive conditions such as arthritis, and those who suffer from this disorder often experience a diminished quality of life. Symptoms include pain while eating or chewing, headaches, locking of the jaw, popping noises when the mouth is opened or closed, and pain in the face, neck, jaw, and ear areas. TMJ has many potential causes that range from something as simple as chewing too much gum to the advent of certain autoimmune disorders. Even stress can play a part because some people tend to clench their jaws more when they are anxious and may even exacerbate the problem by grinding their teeth in their sleep. Poor posture is another common cause of TMJ.
Fortunately, TMJ relief options are available, including pain medication for cases with temporary causes such as injury and surgery for patients experiencing serious, chronic cases. However, many of those with TMJ syndrome can find relief through various TMJ exercises designed to strengthen and rehabilitate the affected tissues. Following are just five of the many exercise options available to those who suffer from this condition.
Relaxing the Jaw
This is a simple exercise that can be performed almost anywhere at any time, such as at work, at home, while in the car, or while on a walk around the neighborhood. This exercise is performed by allowing the tongue to rest gently on the roof of the mouth immediately behind the upper front teeth and then slowly relaxing the jaw muscles and letting the lower jaw drop. This can be repeated many times throughout the course of the day and is particularly effective for those who clench their jaws as a result of stress or anxiety.
Chin tucks are another easy exercise option that’s been found to provide some patients with TMJ relief. With the chest out and the shoulders back, the person should tuck in the chin and then pull it straight back, holding the pose for about three seconds. For best results, the process should be repeated 10 times daily.
Sitting Knee Squeezes
This exercise is designed to help those whose TMJ pain is caused by poor posture. The person sits on a chair with knees and hips at 90-degree angles with a pillow placed between the knees and the hands clasped behind the back. The patient then squeezes the shoulder blades together and squeeze the pillow between the knees a minimum of 60 times per session while making sure to breathe deeply and keeping stomach muscles relaxed. This TMJ exercise should be performed once per day, and patients can optimize results by being mindful of posture at all times.
Moving the Jaw From Side to Side
This exercise strengthens jaw muscles and helps promote overall flexibility. The patient places an object of about 1/4 inch high, such as a pencil or a stack of tongue depressors, in between the upper and lower front teeth and then moves the jaw from side-to-side. Increasing the width of the object as the jaw muscles become stronger helps keep the momentum going. A variation of this exercise is to move your lower jaw forward while holding the object between the front teeth.
Resisted Mouth Closing
This exercise helps strengthen the jaw muscles used to chew food. Using the index finger and thumb of the same hand, the patient squeezes the chin and applies pressure while slowly closing the mouth.
Treatment strategies vary according to the unique needs and preferences of individual patients. Those suffering from TMJ disorder should seek the advice of their Seattle dentist to determine its cause and craft a customized treatment program designed to minimize and perhaps eliminate the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.