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 by Jon Burras
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Mouth Guards Do Not Cure TMJ
        Have you ever experienced a painful bite? Do you have clicking or noise when you chew? Do you grind your teeth down at night? Have you ever been diagnosed with TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome)? All of these characteristics are symptoms of a jaw out of balance. The more out of balance the jaw might be the more severe the symptoms become.
        There are many reasons why a person will develop TMJ or any of the other associated symptoms. One reason is that there may have been a trauma in the past that is still alive and well while living in the jaw muscles. You may have been hit in the side of the head when you where twelve years old by a navel orange thrown during a childhood fruit fight. You may have been in a car accident where you had your head slammed into the side of the car. You might have been a bystander in a bar fight and were elbowed in the jaw. Those traumas, no matter how long ago they might have occurred, are most likely still alive and active in your jaw muscles.
        Another reason the jaw muscles might be held tightly is due to old emotions that have been stored in these muscles. We all carry emotions in our body somewhere. Some people tighten up the muscles around their eyes unconsciously which often leads to distorted vision. Some people carry their emotions in their lower back leading to back problems. Others will store their emotions in their jaw area.
        Most people are not storing the energy of happiness or joy in their jaw muscles. This action would be using your jaw to release the energy of emotion. Most people who have TMJ have stored the emotions of fear, worry or anger in their jaw muscles. They have an unconscious pattern of tightening up the jaw muscles when they are under stress or repressing their fear. While this pattern can happen during daylight hours it can be even more common to engage in repression of emotion during the night time when one is sleeping. Many people have a hidden fear of the night time or of darkness that triggers a very primal reflex to hold on during the night. After many years of practicing this tightness the jaw muscles have now developed a distorted pattern.
        Another way that jaw muscles become imbalanced is through constant impact. Football or hockey players who receive regular impact blows will clench their jaw muscles and bite down on their mouth guard every time they receive another body blow. Motorcycle riders on dirt courses and others engaged in repetitive bouncing movements will often develop tight jaw muscles from the repeated clenching while bouncing.
        Muscles have memory. Muscles only have two positions—"off" or "on." There are four sets of muscles that create the actions in the jaw. These muscles are the following: the Temporalis, Masseter, Medial Pterygoid and Lateral Pterygoid. The Temporalis and the Masseter are on the outside of the head while the two Pterygoid muscles are inside the jaw. When muscle memory is stored in the jaw muscles these muscles will be locked in the "on" position and the jaw will be held tightly, often with grinding of the teeth as a symptom.
        The common treatment incorporated by most dentists is to give the patient a mouth guard to wear at night when sleeping. Unfortunately, mouth guards do not heal one from TMJ but will only make matters worse. When you clench down on a mouth guard at night you might be saving your teeth from being worn down but you are not fixing the problem. You will be reinforcing the pattern of tightening and storing more muscle memory in the jaw muscles. You will wake up with a sore jaw from all the clenching at night. Just like eye glasses do not fix poor vision (they only make it worse), mouth guards worn at night will never fix your jaw problem but will only reinforce a bad habit.
The question one might want to ask is how to fix such a problem. In order to correct TMJ there are several aspects that are required. One must first remove the tension pattern and muscle memory. This is done by utilizing gentle movements (like moving your lips in a circle) to create a new pattern. A qualified body worker might be utilized to release the tension in the muscles through hands on bodywork. Even going into the mouth to release the Pterygoid muscles through bodywork might be important. Employing a re-patterning system is important in order to remove the old tight pattern and turn the muscles "off."
        TMJ and other jaw imbalances can be corrected but not by wearing a night guard at night to do so. One must use a holistic and comprehensive approach in order to achieve the desired results. A lifetime of jaw tension does not have to happen. Discarding your night guard is the first step in reclaiming the health of your mouth.
Upledger Institute (Upledger.com) Find a craniosacral therapist in your area
FeldenkraisResources.com (TMJ movement exercises)
Jon Burras, connective tissue body worker (JonBurras.com)