There are many approaches to help patients with "TMJ" pain, or jaw muscle pain, just as there are many different names for the pain patients experience. One of the most effective approaches is something everyone can do on their own, which is to make sure your teeth are apart during the day. In addition, the muscles need to be stretched. This page contains information on how to learn to keep your teeth apart as well as a simple jaw stretching exercise you can do up to six times a day.
When you keep your teeth apart, the muscles that are responsible for closing the jaw are not working so they are resting. If your teeth are constantly touching, the closing muscles are working to keep your teeth together, and this can lead to pain in the closing muscles and pain in the teeth. To help patients remember to keep their teeth apart, we teach them the "N rest" position. This is very easily taught to all patients and is very effective. All you need to do is say the letter, "N." Then ask yourself, "where is my tongue, where are my teeth, and where are my lips?" The answers are that your tongue should be on the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth, your teeth should be apart, and your lips should be together. As a result of the N rest position, your jaw should be relaxed. It is normal for your teeth to touch when you swallow but since that is a very light and very quick touch, it is not something to worry about.
One of the causes of facial pain is contraction of the closing muscles. The closing muscles are the superficial masseter, the medial pterygoid, and the temporalis. If these muscles are constantly squeezed together, they can start to cause pain because every muscle needs a rest. The body's way of getting your attention to an overworked muscle is to cause pain to get you to stop the pain-causing behavior. Clenching your teeth together during the day and/or night, and/or grinding your teeth at night, or chewing too much gum can cause a type of muscle pain called myalgia or myofascial pain. Most people tend to clench during the day and grind at night but everyone is different.
In order to counteract the constant tension that a contracted muscle is doing, you need to stretch the muscle. The recommendation is that you stretch your closing muscles by using the "N stretch." This is accomplished by saying the letter "N," and then stretching upon your jaw but keep your tongue in the N position so that it is right behind your top front teeth. This will limit your opening to protect your jaw joint, or TMJ. Hold this for 6 seconds, rest, repeat this 5 more times, and the total time will take only one minute. The image to the right is timed at exactly six seconds so you can gauge how long you are holding your stretch using the animated image. It is recommend you do this 6 times a day as well as any time you catch yourself clenching your teeth during the day. After all, if you are clenching, the muscle is contracted, and to help the muscle, you need to stretch it.