How to Relax a Tense Jaw

Finding out how to relax a tense jaw can help you relieve aching TMJ muscles and can help prevent chronic TMJ pain.

Jaw tension occurs when the muscles surrounding the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) become constantly activated. The blanket medical term for jaw tension, jaw clenching, and teeth grinding is “bruxism”. When untreated, chronic jaw tension can be a risk factor for developing a chronic temporomandibular disorder (TMD), according to the International Association for Dental Research.

Here’s what you need to know about jaw tension and how to relax a tense jaw.

Jaw Tension and Bruxism

The muscles surrounding the jaw are called “muscles of mastication”.

Jaw tension occurs when these masticatory muscles are constantly active – this is called ‘tonic’ activation.  Jaw clenching is when these muscles are rhythmically active – this is called ‘phasic’ activation. Tonic activation, phasic activation, or both, are components of the behavioral condition known as “bruxism”. Note that jaw muscle tension is different from jaw stiffness, which can occur from arthritis of the jaw joint and other causes.

“Jaw tension can occur during the daytime or at night, but the key feature is the constant tonic activation of the jaw muscles. Besides potential damage to the teeth, chronic jaw tension is a risk factor for developing jaw muscle pain, TMJ pain, or headaches,” explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an Orofacial Pain Specialist.

Finding the underlying cause of your jaw tension is the first step in finding relief.  Here’s a list of the most common causes of jaw tension:

  • Psychosocial Factors: Stress, anxiety disorders, and certain personality traits.
  • Sleep Disorders: Sleep apnea has been associated with jaw tension.
  • Medications: Stimulants and antidepressants are notorious offenders.
  • Jaw Injury: Jaw tension and muscle guarding can be a reaction to injury.
  • TMJ Disorders: Jaw tension and bruxism is common in TMJ disorders.

Oftentimes the cause of jaw tension may be from a combination of factors or may be altogether unclear.  Jaw tension can also be episodic, so devices that only test jaw muscle activation for a few hours, or one night may not be diagnostically significant, according to Dr. Eli.

How To Relax A Tense Jaw

Knowing how to relax a tense jaw requires looking for an underlying cause, such as lifestyle habits that put strain on the jaw joint or jaw muscles. Advanced or complicated cases require an evaluation by a TMJ Dentist, an Orofacial Pain Specialist  or health care professional.

Here are some general ways to relieve jaw tension that you can start right away.

  • Jaw RestResting the jaw is one of the best ways to get it to relax. The adoption of a soft diet for up to two weeks is a good way to rest the jaw.  Avoiding hard foods and chewing gum is also important.
  • Jaw Relaxation Exercises: There are specific tongue and jaw exercises (Jaw-Rxercises) that can help relieve jaw tension and increase how wide you can open your mouth. These exercises need to be performed throughout the day for several days, to retrain the brain to stop habitually clenching and allow hyperactive masticatory muscles to relax.
  • Intraoral Appliance: The use of a transitional  anterior bite guard (QuickSplint®) is an excellent way to relax a tense jaw. The guard will decrease muscle hyperactivity and inhibit maximum bite force.  QuickSplint® is designed as a trial, for short-term wear.
  • Heat Therapy (Thermotherapy): Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels to the jaw area and increases the tissue extensibility, allowing for increased comfort and range of motion. Thermotherapy can be a great tool to relax tense joints.

TMJ Pain Relief Now

Most of the above techniques on how to relax tense jaw muscles are part of the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit, including the QuickSplint® overnight oral appliance that is worn at night to prevent clenching.

It is important to be proactive in caring for jaw tension so that it does not progress to a chronic TMJ condition or refer pain to other parts of your body such as neck, shoulder or back.

Start your journey towards TMJ pain relief with the Home Healing Kit today!

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