One of the main reasons why so many people suffer from a tense or aching jaw is because the muscles of the jaw are innervated by the same nerve that innervates our flight or fight response when we are stressed. The Temporalis, Masseter, and Pterygoid muscles are used to bite, chew, and swallow. They are all innervated by the nerve known as the Trigeminal nerve or fifth cranial nerve. It has many functions but we are going to focus mainly on its connections to the Jaw and the Reticular Activating System.
The Reticular Activating System or RAS is the system used to filter input as our brain takes it all in. It helps to sift through what is a normal occurrence and what we need to respond to. This is the part of the brain that is affected by psychotropic drugs such as LSD. When we are under a lot of stress and likely not getting a lot of sleep our Trigeminal nerve is getting over-activated. This then can create a tension in our Jaw muscles. The muscles being tense create an abnormal pressure on the TMJ joint causing the pain many people suffer from. To put it simply, stress can cause a tense jaw.
We all hold stress differently. When it is held by a tight clenching of the Jaw and face muscles it can cause grinding of the teeth at night, TMJ joint dysfunction and can even lead to a syndrome known as “Lock Jaw.” Lock Jaw is as the name implies when the jaw becomes locked either open or closed and can go on for months or longer.
So, it is very important to act quickly if you are feeling pain in your jaw, as stated above, if left unattended it can lead to years of pain, rehabilitation and costly medical bills. Certainly, speak to your dentist or doctor if any pain is felt in the jaw or upon awaking. It is also important to try to manage your stress that may be causing tension in these areas. Please see my article on pillows and bolsters as it can be helpful to sleep in good alignment when managing jaw issues.
Dr John Upledger, who has been a pioneer in Cranial Sacral Therapy(a light touch healing modality) created a self help technique to help manage (along with help from a practitioner) jaw issues. His International Organization known as the Upledger Institute is an organization dedicated to healing modalities of many kinds for many different ailments. Cranial Sacral Therapy has been used to help Vietnam Veterans recover from post traumatic stress disorder as well as Autistic Children to have a better quality of life. Please see related articles. In this video, Jasetherapy explains and illistrates this simple technique, which can help aleviate tension in the temporal mandibular joint.