Do you or someone you know suffer with Jaw or Face Pain?
After Harold Whitehead suffered severe trauma from an accident, he didn't know if he'd ever recover from his injuries. He was probably lucky to be alive after a car hit him as he stood in a gas-station parking lot, throwing him 10 feet.
"I had multiple injuries, including lost teeth and a displaced jaw," the Poulsbo resident says. "I could not open my mouth but maybe by a quarter inch, and you could hear a pop 20 feet away."
One of the consequences of Whitehead's injuries was temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD. Also commonly called TMJ, TMD is a group of conditions affecting the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movements.
Whitehead was so embarrassed by the loud popping of his jaw, he stopped eating out.
"People would turn their heads to look at me, it was that loud," he says.
His dentist referred Whitehead to physical therapist Eric Roth at Kitsap Physical Therapy. With the help of manual therapy and postural exercises, Roth was able to correct the TMD after only a few visits.
"The procedures were absolutely amazing," Whitehead says. "Eric realigned my jaws and terminated the popping, and it was an incredible experience for me."
As many as 10 million or more Americans suffer from TMD, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Trauma is only one of the leading causes, and for many people, symptoms may start without any obvious reason.
Roth says that often the main symptom is radiating pain in the jaw, neck or face. Other symptoms may include a locked jaw or jaw muscle stiffness, limited movements in the jaw including a change in the bite, poor sleep, nighttime bruxing (teeth clenching and grinding), and pain or fullness in the ear. Popping and clicking may be present but jaw noises alone are not an indicator of TMD.
"People could simply wake up one day and know something doesn't feel right," Roth says. "They may get tired of taking medications or putting heat on it and they're at a loss to figure out where the pain is coming from."
There's no common standard test for TMD, according to the NIH. As with other musculoskeletal issues, a physical therapist will begin by evaluating the patient. Roth says it's the therapist's role to "tease out" the symptoms and help figure out the cause.
Besides therapy, TMD treatment options include oral appliances and surgical procedures. According to the Mayo Clinic, devices such as bite guards or splints can benefit people with jaw pain, but the reasons are not understood fully.
Roth recommends trying physical therapy before choosing any of the more invasive and expensive methods.
"In general, TMD is very amenable to therapy," he says. "If you correct the mechanics, the jaw has an amazing ability to get back to a more natural state."
He says that patients often come in frustrated because they've tried many other things without results. After three or four visits and some "homework," many will typically see significant changes.
"The treatment includes a lot of education about sleeping and oral habits, exercises for correct range of motion and postural instruction," he says.
Like many patients, Whitehead says he didn't think of physical therapy as a potential solution. He's glad that his dentist made the referral.
"He said that I should go see Eric because he could fix it, and he was right - Eric fixed it," Whitehead says. "I don't think enough people know that they can go to a physical therapist for help, and that's unfortunate."
KPT has two specialist that treat TMJ located in Kingston and Silverdale. Call today for a FREE consultation, you don't just have to live with it.