Check-out your jaw action before you face a pain or bite problem. You can use a mirror to assess yourself. It’s a good idea to ask a family member or friend to help you observe your jaw position and movement. Here’s a list of what to look for:
- Slowly open your mouth as wide as possible. It should open 3-4 inches without pain.
- Push your jawbone forward and pull it far back several times. If there is pain or popping sound you have a jaw problem.
- Very slowly open your mouth as wide as possible. You have jaw problems if your mandible (jawbone) slides to one side or if it slides from side to side as you open or close your mouth. You should not hear popping sounds (crepitation)
- Look in the mirror. You have bite problems if your jaw protrudes forward.
- Look in the mirror. You have bite problems if your jaw retrudes backward.
- Close your mouth with all your teeth touching. You have jaw problems if all of your teeth do not make contact.
- When your jaw is closed does your jawbone slide to one side? Or does your jaw need to slide to one side in order for all the teeth to touch?
- Slide your jawbone side to side. You have jaw problems if:
- your jawbone slides more easily to one side; or
- your jawbone slides farther to one side or
- your jawbone drops downward when it slides to one side
Jaw problems are often caused by soft tissue problems of the head, face, mouth and upper neck. Soft tissues include muscles, fascia, membranes, ligaments, and the attachments of these structures to bone (called aponeurotic tissue). Also, jaw problems can be related to problems with the upper cervical vertebra and the muscles attached to these vertebrae.
Advanced craniosacral therapists who have studied at the Upledger Institute regularly help people recover from jaw pain and achieve better jaw mechanics. We certainly need ongoing dental care, but dental procedures often create problems in the soft tissues that surround, support and operate the jaw. We need to remember that any time the head, face, neck or shoulders suffer a force injury, the jaw and bite can be negatively affected.
What is often overlooked is that soft tissue problems deeper in the head (cranium) also affect jaw position and jaw mechanics. Your brain is surrounded and protected by a tension membrane system that includes the dura, the faux and the tentorium. When these membranes show torsion, or shear or compression or tension, the bite and jaw mechanics can be affected. That’s because the jaw is intricately related to the other bones of the head/face by the tension membrane system, and also by the pterygoid muscles.
A qualified craniosacral therapist or other manual therapist can do a lot to improve jaw function and reduce pain. You may not need to undergo more expensive and more invasive procedures. Be aware that most people will also need help with learning not to clench the jaw. Jaw clenching is a common behavior that is related to stress. Jaw clenching always creates hypertonicity in certain muscles that operate the jaw, and the result is that jaw mechanics will be disturbed.
Your jaw muscles work in pairs and each pair must be balanced (equally strong and equally stretched). If the masseter is weak on one side and too strong on the other side, you will have problems. The other muscle pairs that must be in balance include the temporalis, the digastrics, and the pterygoids.
When your jaw is balanced you have good jaw mechanics, and that protects your teeth from abnormal wear and tear…and protects you from future pain.