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My Jaw Hurts: This Needs To End!

Your jaw and the muscles that make it work comprise one complex system. Jaw muscles produce powerful forces that crush and grind food to start the digestive process. When compared to other muscles in the body, these workhorses may generate the most force, ounce for ounce.

You can probably bite down and apply 175 pounds of brute force on your teeth!  So, when you’re wondering “Why my jaw hurts,” this may be part of the explanation.

By each ear, the jaw joint (TMJ) joins the lower jaw to your skull with a cartilage pad and small ligaments. When you chew, yawn, or talk, these joints move in multiple directions. When everything functions as it should, pain isn’t part of the equation.

Sometimes the jaw joint experiences uncommon stress, and that’s when problems begin to develop. If you ever wake up in the morning with a sore jaw or headache, odds are your jaw hasn’t been resting as you have.  Over 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from bruxism, or night-time teeth grinding. During the night, your brain can override normal bite force and generate 5 times more force than occurs during the day! This abnormal activity strains muscles from the neck to the top of the temples. It also compresses the jaw joints and can cause inflammation in the joints.

A Powerhouse System

To understand the strain on these muscles, clench your muscles.

Put your fingers on the muscle in front of the jaw and run them down to the lower jaw? Feel that bulge? Now clench and unclench as you rub the temples.

These long, skinny muscle fibers reach to the top of your head. When these major muscles, along with a bunch of small ones, undergo strain, then pain begins. This discomfort radiates into many areas of the head, and there’s a big difference between the source of pain and the site of pain.

To top it off, the jaw joints can become pain centers of their own. A delicate cartilage disk cushions the lower jaw bone against the skull. Unusual forces, arthritic changes, trauma, or an uneven bite can cause the joints to become imbalanced and irritated.

Maybe you’ve had a foul knee, sore hip, or tender knuckles. The same problem can develop in the TMJ on the left, right, or both sides. Research even suggests that migraine sufferers can experience more severe TMD problems, and TMD may even intensify migraines. This double curse makes life especially miserable for chronic migraine patients.

So How Do I Stop Jaw Pain?

If you’re tormented by headaches or jaw pain, make sure you’ve had an evaluation with your dentist. A few easy tests and clinical clues provide insight to what’s making “my jaw hurt.”

While it’s a subject for another day, the possibility of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) shouldn’t be overlooked. A well-designed  study in 2009 showed one in four OSA patients conjointly grind their teeth. OSA is a serious sleep disorder that’s responsible for a long list of health problems.

In fact, 90% of people who die in their sleep have untreated OSA!

Bruxism could be the first clue that you’re stressing your body and a sleep study is in order.

Sometimes it takes time to schedule a sleep study. A simple, inexpensive nightguard appliance can serve as a temporary measure to protect your jaw, teeth, and relieve some of the jaw pain or headaches. You may decide to ultimately invest in a custom nightguard, made just for you. There’s also a chance that treating a sleep disorder may take care of your pain while protecting your general health.

Bottom Line to “Why My Jaw Hurts!”

Jaw pain or headaches seriously have an effect on your ability to enjoy life. In some cases, they may indicate a serious health disorder like sleep apnea. A game plan could include:

  • Make an appointment with your dentist to discuss your concerns, and consider a sleep study with a certified sleep center.
  • Order a temporary nightguard immediately to generate short-term relief. Here’s a simple one that will work for most people.
  • If you’re having pain, try applying ice to the joint and muscles on the side of your face in front of the ears. Move the ice to your temples. If you find the pain temporarily drops by half or more, you’re probably dealing with TMD. If you still have pain, there are many other types of TMD that could be causing discomfort and you should follow-up with your dentist.

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