Q: Lately my jaws have been locking, I’m not sure why but it happens every day. It hurts when I yawn or when I try to chew. I have tried jaw exercises but to no avail, can u suggest anything and should I be really worried?
A: You could be experiencing temporomandibular disorder (TMD) also called temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). Basically, it is a condition that involves the two bones (temporal and mandibular) that make up the jaw. To feel this joint, place your finger on your cheek just in front of your ear and then open and close your mouth. TMD occurs when part of the jaw bones become “locked” in a groove that it is not suppose to go into, hence the term “locked jaw.” It starts to hurt because the muscles and the ligaments are overly stretched from that abnormal position.
It is rather common in young women and comes about with extreme opening of the mouth (eg, eating, yawning, laughing, singing, vomiting, dental treatments) and is less often caused by trauma. The pain may be experienced only on one side of the jaw or both, as well as the ear or back of the neck. People also complain of headaches with this pain and some may even hear a clicking or popping sound or have a “crunchy feeling” in the jaw when they open and close their mouths.
What to do about it?
- Look for causes. TMD may arise from stress, abnormalities in the jaw, or other musculoskeletal problems (eg, arthritis) so finding the culprit is key. This is where your doctor can help you. Your doctor can draw some tests or take images of the area if he or she feels that there is a problem within the jaw joint itself. This happens in a small number of cases, but it is worth checking out if necessary. It could be a dental problem, in which case, your dentist can also help.
- Jaw exercise. Although it did not seem to help with you, jaw exercises tends to help most people. An example of a jaw exercise is to place your thumb underneath the center of your chin, and as you slowly open your mouth, apply light pressure on the bottom of your chin with your thumb. Hold for 3-6 seconds and repeat about 5 times. If these exercises worsen the pain, try to take an ibuprofen right before the exercises.
- Stress Management. As stress is known to play a part in making this condition worse, you should try to eliminate as much from your life as possible. Look within yourself and find out what may be the cause of your stress. Try breathing exercises, mediation, prayer, yoga, or even walks in the park. Really, anything to help manage your stress.
- Bite splint. For those who find themselves clenching and grinding their teeth, using a splint at night can help in allowing the jaw muscles to relax. If you find yourself always clenching your jaw, of course, try to stop it.
- Drug Therapy. Start off with using ibuprofen or other over-the-counter medications to help with the pain. If that does not help, there are other prescribed medications (eg, muscle relaxants) that your doctor can give you. They may also recommend injecting pain medications into the jaw for more relief.
- Surgery. This is often the last resort once “all else fails.”