Jaw pain can be debilatating and occur for several different reasons. Many individuals with jaw pain have TMJ dysfunction. This is pain near the jaw joints which allow us to open and close our mouths as well as eat, chew, speak. The following list some reasons that jaw pain occurs?
1) A bad bite (malocclusion)
This photo shows the jaw and neck muscles working together.
The first, a bad bite. This essentially occurs when the teeth do not meet together in a position in which the muscles and joints are "happy". As humans, we have to get our teeth together to function so we will force them together at the expense of the jaw joints and muscles. This strains the muscles of the face and neck and often pushes the joints backwards. This strain on the joints can damage the joint and overwork the facial muscles which in turn can cause headaches, neckaches, and jaw pain. Additionally, a bad bite can lead to grinding of the teeth which can cause more damage to the teeth as well as more overworked muscles perpetuating a vicious cyle.
The second, posture. This is a factor that is often overlooked and is very important. One's posture changes everything and is the reason that patient's with jaw pain most often have associated neck pain. Forward head posture often occurs as a way to compensate for the bad bite. For every one inch forward the head moves, it places 15-20 pounds of additional weight on the neck. This affects the cervical vertebrae. Postural analysis and correction is essential for long term stability when treating TMJ issues.
The third, orthodontics. Many times patients have had braces in which the teeth are moved without respect to the jaw muscles, jaw joints, and posture or airway. This essentially moves the teeth into a position that is not normal or adaptive by the patient. Overtime, damage to the joints and muscles can occur.
Trauma is another factor. A blow to the jaw or head or even an autoaccident can damage the joints and cause jaw pain. This can be chronic or acute pain. Just like any other joint in the body, it is subject to trauma and can hurt to eat, chew, or even open the mouth.
Each category is often treated differently. A definitive diagnosis needs to come first and each area addressed. For example, if a bad bite is causing someones jaw pain and they also have a postural issue with neck pain, both must be addressed to help with long term stability.
Treating jaw pain or TMJ is not limited to the teeth and it is essential to view and treat the whole complex! A thorough exam of the head, neck, posture, and a 3D scan to be able to see the neck and jaw joints, and airway truly helps with the diagnosis and to see what is happening.