Can you guess what’s the strongest muscle in the human body? Many muscles, including the tongue, the heart, and the gluteus maximus have been deemed the strongest muscles of the human body. But when it comes to sheer force there is one muscle that’s above all others: the masseter.
The masseter is a thick, flat muscle located in the cheeks, and it is part of what we call the “jaw muscles.” When the muscles of the jaw work together, they can close your back teeth (molars) with a force of up to 200 pounds and 95 pounds on the rest of your teeth. We use the jaw muscles every day to talk and chew.
But sometimes we clench our jaws involuntarily, exerting too much pressure in or around the face and temples. Bruxism is the abnormal and involuntary clenching or grinding of the teeth that may occur during the day or at night while we sleep. Your dentist may diagnose you with bruxism during a regular dental check-up based on changes on your teeth.
Signs and symptoms that you have bruxism include:
Chipped or flattened teeth
Tight or locked jaw
Loud grinding noises
Headaches or migraines
Bruxism and migraines
Migraines are a type of chronic neurologic disorder that causes intense, debilitating pain. Though the exact cause is not fully understood, experts know that migraines can be triggered by factors such as stress, the weather, loud noises, some types of foods, etc. During a migraine attack, a person might experience daily bouts of pain that last up to a week.
Bruxism, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and toothaches have also been shown to trigger migraines in some individuals because they create tension around the head. In fact, a research study conducted in 2016 showed that migraine sufferers ground their teeth more – especially around the molar region – than those who didn’t suffer from migraines.
If you find yourself tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, or you wake up with jaw pain, you might have bruxism or TMJ disorder. Untreated jaw disorders can wear down your teeth (attrition), aggravate migraines and cause tension headaches.
Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help prevent further tooth damage and ease the pressure off your jaw. Talk with your dentist to learn about the options available for bruxism and TMJ, including:
Mouthguards or splints: these are the best options if you are a night-time grinder because they keep the jaw in a rested position. Mouthguards can fit over your top or bottom teeth and their goal is to separate your top and bottom molars. Usually, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth and then mold the mouthguard accordingly so it can be as comfortable as possible when you use it.
Self-massage: use your fingers to massage your jaw in a circular or downwards motion applying constant, gentle pressure. Alternatively, with your mouth open, use your hand to gently push one side of your jaw. Hold it for 10 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Medications: If your bruxism or TMJ is severe, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants to help ease tension off the area. Botox injections have also been shown to be effective at temporarily reducing clenching and alleviating jaw pain.
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