Daily habits sustained over time can improve our health and quality of life. There’s a reason why people who eat a balanced diet and exercise tend to have better outcomes than those who don’t. Oral health is no exception to this rule.
It might not be as top of mind for patients, but adding one element to their routine can encourage oral health and offer comfort. Here’s a look at why dentists and dental professionals recommend jaw exercises and some recommendations on which ones to incorporate, depending on your situation.
Jaw exercises are focused on loosening muscles and ligaments associated with the jaw joint itself. Changes in ligaments can result in bite changes. In some cases, a shifted bite can cause speech problems, breathing issues, facial changes, grinding, and chewing issues. Conversely, a properly aligned bite allows you to clean your teeth more efficiently. This means you can better prevent tooth decay, gingivitis, and other oral health problems. With that in mind, jaw exercises loosen the associated ligaments so that the teeth can come together more naturally.
On the surface, you might not think that sleep and dentistry have any sort of relationship. However, it’s true that for patients facing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), an oral appliance can be a game-changer. An oral sleep appliance worn at night repositions the lower jaw and tongue dramatically, thus reducing the chances of airway blockage. Patients can find relief from excessive snoring and other symptoms of sleep apnea. Many patients find they have a new lease on life after getting consistently good sleep!
However, on the other side of the coin, some people using oral appliances to treat sleep apnea might experience some side effects. These devices keep the airway open by moving the lower jaw forward. While many patients using these appliances find relief from sleep apnea, they also might notice changes to the bite over time. This shift can lead to misalignment and associated conditions like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
The good news is that using a morning aligner while also practicing regular stretching exercises can reduce or eliminate the side effects. Morning aligners are tools used to guide the jaw back into a neutral position after using the sleep device at night. They’re designed to help manage potential bite changes and alignment issues. In addition to this recommendation from your sleep dentist, you might try stretches and exercises to address alignment issues related to ligaments for pain relief.
Bite alignment is primarily determined by the strength and coordination of the muscles in your jaw. Jaw exercises can enhance proper bite alignment by targeting these muscles. Orthodontists often recommend exercises as part of orthodontic treatment plans. Here’s how they work:
Before diving into the exercises themselves, it’s helpful to understand the types and their unique benefits. In severe cases such as jaw injuries, surgery is an option. Here, we are focusing on non-invasive and preventative solutions to TMD. That said, here’s an overview of some basic jaw movement exercises and their techniques:
Safety should always be at the forefront when engaging in jaw stretching exercises to prevent overextension, pain, or misalignment. Proper form and consistency matter, along with using morning aligners. Here are some safety precautions:
Life can be busy and full, but integrating jaw exercises into your daily life is easier than you might think. Consider trying them while commuting, in the car, or even in the shower. Incorporating these simple movements during another activity is a great way to save make it a habit. You only need a few minutes to positively impact your overall health.
While jaw exercises can be beneficial, it’s essential to recognize the limitations of home care. Consulting a certified sleep dentist like Dr. Hale is crucial to getting a custom treatment plan, especially if you’re experiencing TMJ issues, snoring or sleep apnea. Seek a professional opinion if:
Don’t just take it from us. Scientific research indicates how jaw exercises improve bite alignment and address related issues. For instance, one study published in 2018 followed 21 patients who reported jaw pain. The patients were instructed to perform jaw exercises and received relevant education about their condition. The authors concluded that these exercises worked and could help improve overall quality of life.
Incorporating jaw stretching into your daily routine can be a simple yet effective way to enhance your bite alignment and overall oral health. Remember to prioritize safety, consult a qualified sleep dentist when necessary, and do your research. Dr. Jonathan Hale is a Fort Wayne-based dentist and the founder of Hale Family Dentistry. He is a graduate of Indiana University School of Dentistry and Diplomate of Dental Sleep Medicine with the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
Your journey towards a healthier smile and a more comfortable bite alignment starts with a few daily exercises. If you or someone you know suffers from jaw pain, schedule a consultation today!