Do your teeth hurt, but a check up at the Dentist shows no problem? Is your jaw  locking and you can’t open it? Stabbing headache in your forehead, or behind your eye?

You may have a TMJ problem.

With an asymmetric bite, stress related clenching or grinding (even during sleep) or habits like resting your chin on your hands, this joint where your jaw meets your head can get very inflamed and sore. In response the muscles around it go become protectively tight and this can put pressure on the nerves that exit the skull in the vicinity of the joint.

One of these nerves is the trigeminal nerve, a cranial nerve, and it’s third branch (V3) can refer pain to the teeth. This can be confusing because it feels like your teeth hurt when you chew, so it must be a cavity, right? Nope. It may just be the nerve irritation which is worse during closing of the jaw (compression).

Treatment involves proper assessment of the true contributors to the irritation (bite asymmetry, behaviors like clenching or biting nails) and then modification of these contributors. This might involve massage, needling, or stretching to reduce the guarding muscle tightness; strengthening exercises to improve the capacity of the joint to tolerate daily loads, and sometimes anti-inflammatory therapy.

COVID-19 Update:

This problem has become more prevalent in the last five months than ever before. Despite pressure on physiotherapists from the Department of Health to only see patients whose treatment is considered “essential”, between half and three quarters of my daily case-load are people who are suffering such severe jaw pain and headaches that they’re unable to work, struggling to eat, swallowing anti-inflammatories for pain relief and even some people who have exhibited lock-jaw – unable to open their jaw more than a couple of millimetres. 

One effect of the COVID19 pandemic (apart from direct viral illness, and economic disaster) is species wide stress. People are anxious, scared about the future, stressed about finances, job certainty, and worried about “the numbers”. This is obviously resulting in more clenching, more nervous system sensitivity, poor sleep, and poor health habits, all contributing to worse pain. 

If your headaches are causing escalating medication use, inability to work, lock-jaw, or likelihood of hospitalisation due to pain, then your condition is considered essential and please don’t hesitate to book in so we can help.

Ben Kewish