Dr. Mel Bartlett, PT, DPT is a physical therapist with MovementX in McMinnville, Oregon.
The Fix For Your Jaw Pain
Did you know that 39 million people experience issues related to their jaw? Of these 39 million, only 5-10%seek treatment for their pain.
TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, otherwise known as “jaw pain”) is the second most common region of chronic pain in the body, next to low back pain.
The good news is that there is treatment for TMD that doesn’t have to involve needles, surgery or other invasive procedures!
What Do TMD Symptoms Look Like?
Pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be on a spectrum from just an annoyance to debilitating, constant facial pain that greatly impacts quality of life.
Have you ever experienced any of these symptoms?
Pain around your jaw or ear
Jaw clicking or popping
Clenching, grinding, fractured teeth
Headaches, migraines or ear aches
Tinnitus or ear fullness (feeling “plugged”)
Pain or fatigue with chewing
Inability to open wide (think: yawning, singing, laughing, dental cleanings)
Tight, stiff or painful neck and shoulders
Inability to relax face or jaw leading to clenching during the daytime or nighttime
If the answer is yes, you might benefit from a consultation with a Physical Therapist who specializes in TMD and Orofacial Pain.
What Should I Expect at a PT Appointment for TMD?
Conservative treatment by a physical therapist will start with a thorough examination. And boy do I mean thorough! On average 90 minute evaluations are necessary, but with more complex cases, the initial examination can take up to 2 hours. Rest assured, this enables us to see the whole picture of you. Understanding the history of what led up to your dysfunction and pain is extremely pertinent to the treatment. For example, was there trauma? Oftentimes, something from our past like a bad whiplash injury from a car accident can play a role in your pain. Even hours of dental work can often precede jaw pain and dysfunction.
Other times (and most often), it is a gradual, cumulative effect from chronic neck and shoulder tension, stress and anxiety, clenching and poor postural habits. We look at all of these factors (and more) and hone in on making behavioral changes, as well as improving mindfulness of bad oral habits, in order to reduce stress to your jaw. After all, you can’t expect to fix something that you aren’t aware that you’re doing, right? Think: nail biting, chewing gum, or resting your jaw on your hand when you’re focusing on a task. These are referred to as parafunctional habits and they can be causing an increase in your jaw pain.
After your history is taken, a detailed physical examination will also evaluate things like assessing your bite, range of motion, mobility of you cervical spine as well as temporomandibular joint itself, auscultation (yes, we actually listen to your jaw with a stethoscope), postural assessment, sleep and work ergonomics, and of course examining and palpating relevant jaw, facial and neck musculature. Here we identify which muscles can use some extra love and reduce any of those tight “knots” that we refer to as myofascial trigger points.
TMD Treatment is Hands-On
Once an examination is performed, treatment will be very hands-on. We will work on addressing muscle imbalances through intra-oral massage, assess and treat joint restrictions in the neck and jaw with manual techniques, as well as integrate strengthening of your facial, neck and postural muscles.
We focus your individual program on maximizing your oral-facial function so you can eat that tall burger, get your teeth cleaned without pain, reduce your headaches, or address whatever is limiting you from living your best life.
We will then build you a comprehensive program of exercises at home, as well as teach you self-release techniques so that you can continue management through your home therapy outside of our treatments. On average, my own patients report a reduction of symptoms after just 2 visits, with a significant reduction (or resolution) of symptoms after 6 visits.
Why Do Only 5-10% of People Seek Treatment for Their Jaw Pain?
I speculate this is largely because there is a lack of specialists who are really trained to treat TMD, as well as a lack of public awareness and education that this is a treatable condition. TMD can be addressed conservatively and without a referral from your doctor or dentist. Nearly every patient that I have treated has said, “I had no idea there was treatment for this.” Let’s change that narrative and spread the word!
We CAN help you with your pain and get you back to normal oral function and improve your quality of life. You deserve to be living your best life without this agonizing area of pain.
Kraus, S. (2023). Evaluation and Management of Temporomandibular Disorders with Cervical Spine Considerations [www.TMDstevekraus.com].
About the Author
Dr. Mel Bartlett is a physical therapist with MovementX in McMinnville, OR. Her specialties lie within orthopedic rehabilitation, TMD treatment, and athletic performance. Mel loves guiding her patients on a path towards pain-free movement, and also cherishes her roles as a mother and wife, with a love for cooking, baking, wine tasting, and spending time with her family.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.