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“From this rule I won’t depart: lips together, teeth apart.”

by Arwen Careaga

(*My source for the title is The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)

Having made it through the bulk of the holiday season and now looking at tax time (sorry!), many of us are now feeling stress and tension in the jaw area that can commonly lead to headaches. Whether it is diagnosed as TMJ disorder or not, the information and tips below may just come in handy this time of year!

Do you have headaches that seem to dwell along the sides of your face or radiate into your neck and shoulders? Does it hurt when you press on the facial muscle that engages when you clench your teeth, even if the muscle is relaxed? Do you grind your teeth?

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder refers to dysfunction in the jaw and the muscles that control it. The National Institute of Health estimates that over 10 million Americans are affected by this painful condition. Symptoms may also include ringing in the ears and stress. TMJ commonly flares up during times of stress. If you think you may be afflicted with this condition here are some helpful tips for whatever stage you are in, starting with prevention and ending with treatment:

  • Memorize this catchy phrase: “From this rule I won’t depart: lips together, teeth apart” and do it!

  • Find a way to deal with stress that works for you. One simple thing (although it takes practice to remember to do it) during moments of stress is to pause your thoughts and feel yourself where you are inside your own body. Breathe in. As you breath out, let your shoulders fall down away from your ears. Take a few more deep breaths, paying careful attention to your face. If anything feels tense, consciously relax the area.

  • Using your fingertips, massage along the facial muscles, especially the masseter, in a circular motion. Start gently. If it is painful, just do what you can tolerate and as the muscles loosen you can press deeper. You should be able to feel the “give” of the muscle when pressing. If you only feel a tight band like a board you can keep working on it gently or try some of the treatment tips below

  • Further massage may be done on the inside of the mouth using this technique (wash your hands first):

    • Open your mouth wide and then relax it so that the jaw is not locked open.

    • Using the first finger of either hand, feel in the back of the mouth between the top and bottom teeth (allll the way at the back) until you find hard ridges that run parallel with the nose, and press consistently with as much firmness as is comfortable along them vertically

  • Massage your earlobe – there are points on the lobe that are analogous to the jaw. Make a pincher with your thumb on the back of the earlobe and the first finger on the front and rub in a circular motion all around. The spots may be tender so again be gentle but stay with it for a few minutes.

  • Seek treatment with acupuncture care, which is very effective at relieving TMJ discomfort and related symptoms, and much kinder to the body than muscle relaxers and pain medicines that may otherwise be prescribed. Bonus: it also helps with stress reduction!


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