Headaches, pain and tenderness in the jaw muscle, and dull facial pain, especially around the area of the ear. Other symptoms include clicking or popping noises when the mouth is opened or closed, difficulty opening the mouth, jaws that “lock” or get stuck, or pain when yawning, chewing, or opening the mouth wide.
What is Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome?
From Modern Western Medicine
Pain and other symptoms affecting the head, jaw, and face are brought about when the temporomandibular joints (jaw joints) and muscles and ligaments that control and support them do not work together in coordinated fashion.
Spasm of the jaw muscles, used to control chewing, is the most common cause. Most often, such spasms are brought on by habitual clenching and grinding of teeth, usually the result of emotional tension. Other factors can include incorrect bite, which can place additional stress on the jaw muscles.
Temporomandibular joint problems (commonly referred to as TMJ) may also be caused by the displacement of the joint as a result of jaw, head, or neck injuries. In rare cases, osteoarthritis is a cause.
Treatment is designed to reduce or eliminate the pain by taking the muscles out of spasm, and can include applying heat to the areas of the pain, taking muscle-relaxant drugs, massaging the muscles, eating soft, non-chewy foods, or using a bite splint (a device that fits over the teeth at night to prevent clenching or grinding). Counseling, biofeedback training, and relaxation exercises may also help.
The bite may also need to be corrected by selective grinding of teeth or by the use of braces or other orthodontic appliances. In severe cases, surgery on the jaw joint is required.
From Traditional Medicine
Problems related to the jaw and jaw muscles are seen in Oriental medicine as imbalances with in the kidneys, bladder, sex organs, and stomach meridian. The kidneys are seen as providing qi to the sex organs and, in general, as providing sexual energy and vitality. When sexual frustration builds, the qi can backup along the bladder meridian and manifest within the jaw muscles. (The bladder meridian, from the point where the inner eye joins the bridge of the nose, runs over the top of the head, down the back, over the buttock, along the backs of the legs and to the small toe on each foot.) The body, in its wisdom, sees the jaw as a place from which it can discharge excessive energy because the jaw is so active, either during eating, talking, or breathing. Grinding the teeth and overworking the jaw muscles at night sometimes seen in children, especially when they are feeling frustrated with the parent of the opposite sex. In general, Oriental medicine—including both Chinese and Japanese systems—views grinding the teeth and jaw-related problems as an expression of frustration, and oftentimes sexual frustration.
The stomach meridian also runs along the jaw and provides qi to the jaw muscles. Excessive stomach energy, either from some type of stomach disorders or from anxiety or frustration, can also cause unconscious working of the jaw muscles, TMJ, and related symptoms.
Finally, grinding of the teeth can be brought on by an infestation of parasitic worms in the digestive tract (see chapter on Worms).
The remedies provided below can release the excessive energy that can be the cause of jaw-related problems.
Food to Eat
- Foods that are very soft and easy to chew
- Whole grains, especially barley, which strengthens kidneys, according to Chinese medicine; millet and sweet rice, to strengthen the stomach and stomach meridian
- Beans and bean products, such as tofu and tempeh, to strengthen kidneys, bladder, and sex organs
- Sea vegetables, such as arame, nori, kombu, and wakame to strengthen kidneys
Foods to Avoid
- Excessive amounts of salt. Never use salt at the table as a condiment; use salt only sparingly (a pinch) in cooking; and limit sodium-containing condiments, such as tamari, shoyu, and miso
- Caffeine-containing beverages, such as coffee, tea, and cola drinks
- Spices or any food that upsets the stomach
- Pickled foods, which contain salt and upset the stomach
- Smoked foods, which contain salt and upset the stomach
- Sugar and foods containing sugar
- Increase blood circulation to the area. Apply either moist heat or ice to the jaw, but don’t interchange them (whichever one seems to relieve your symptoms the most is the one you should stick with)
- Massage the jaw briskly with a hot washcloth
- Support your jaw with a mouth guard. This will keep your jaw steady and temporarily deal with your symptoms.
- Check your posture—when sitting or standing, your cheekbone should be over your clavicle and your ears should not be too far in front of your shoulders
- When you feel a yawn coming, restrict it by holding a fist under your chin
- When sleeping, put a towel under your back, a pillow under your knees and a thin towel rolled up ( to about the thickness of your wrist) under your neck
Sleeping on your back is critical to overcoming TMJ. Place a beanbag on each side of your head to keep you from changing positions.
Physiotherapy and Massage
- Therapeutic massage
- Acupressure, especially along the spine, lower back, neck and head area