Unlock a tense jaw
If you’re experiencing tension and tightness in your jaw, this could happen for a few different reasons, some of which are easier to manage than others. Sometimes, massage and stress reduction techniques can reduce or eliminate tension in the jaw, but sometimes, jaw tension is an indication that there’s more to be concerned about. For example, a common sign of tetanus is lockjaw, which is characterized by the inability to open the mouth more than 35 millimeters; to prevent complications and unlock the jaw, the first step is to treat the tetanus. If you have tension in your jaw and it’s interfering with your quality of life, seek medical advice as soon as you can. Symptoms of a locked jaw include limited range of motion in the jaw accompanied by aches and pains in the jaw on one or both sides of the face and radiating pain that spreads into the teeth, neck, nose, ears, and elsewhere in the face and head. Many people with jaw tension or lockjaw also experience an uncomfortable popping or clicking sensation and noise when engaging the jaw. Tension in the jaw can lead to tension in other parts of the body and may become worse when engaging in jaw activity like chewing, yawning, singing, or yelling.
Once serious conditions like tetanus or arthritis have been ruled out by a medical professional, patients can use at-home treatments to relax tension and begin to unlock their tense jaws. If you regularly clench or grind your teeth while you’re sleeping, or if you clench your jaw while awake, which usually happens while sleeping, you may benefit from stress-reduction techniques. One of the most common treatments for jaw tension is a night guard or dental splint that helps the jaw recover from these pressures while you sleep. Chronic clenching and grinding, a condition called bruxism, can also be caused by genetics or dental problems and may be addressed in other ways; once bruxism is managed, jaw tension dissipates. People who chew gum excessively may also experience tightness in their jaws, especially in the lower jaw. When combined with underlying issues like rheumatoid arthritis, for example, these repetitive stresses can lead to temporomandibular joint disorders that become more difficult to treat the longer they’re allowed to persist.
To relieve tension in the jaw caused by these mechanical issues, exercises and stretches have been shown to be highly effective. Your doctor, dentist, or physical therapist can show you how to effectively exercise the jaw and stretch its muscles to relieve tension and strengthen the tissues to prevent recurrence. Some of these exercises focus on the range of motion of the mouth and jaw, while others help stretch out the muscles around the jaw and in the neck. For example, the smile stretch aims to eliminate stress in the neck, the muscles in the face, and both the lower and upper jaw and is easy to perform at home. To begin, smile widely – as widely as you can without it being painful. As you smile, slowly open your jaw, aiming for a two-inch opening, and inhale deeply through your mouth. As you exhale, release the smile. Repeat up to 10 times, and perform this exercise as you see fit, at least a few times a day and in combination with other exercises recommended by your medical provider. Massaging the area can also bring relief from muscle tension, and hot and cold therapies and over-the-counter medications can also help reduce inflammation and muscle tension and help unlock a tense jaw. If these conservative therapies are ineffective, doctors can inject corticosteroids or botulinum toxin (Botox) into the muscles to release them from spasm, and patients have also found relief through acupuncture and other alternative treatments. If your jaw pain persists even after seeing a doctor for diagnosis and trying home remedies, make sure to follow up with your medical practitioner.