Mom Credits PT for Relieving Daughter’s Jaw Pain

On July 15, 2018, 13-year-old Sophia from Boulder, Colorado, had jaw pain so severe she could not chew food and could barely talk. If you looked directly at her, it was clear that her jaw was shifted down and to the right. Sophia is an athlete, playing competitive hockey and swimming. Her mom figured she had gotten hurt during one of her sporting activities. She called PTIS and got a same-day appointment due to the severity of the pain. Within 5 minutes, Sophia’s PT had diagnosed that the jaw pain as TMJ (see below) and was due to a recent tightening of her braces, not a sports-related injury.

With some mouth massage and neck massage, Sophia was able to walk out of her physical therapy appointment pain-free and ready to catch up on eating and talking.

Orthodontic-Related Pain

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), causes chronic pain and dysfunction in the jaw joints and muscles that control jaw movement. The condition can be caused by a number of things including facial trauma, stress or teeth grinding. However, few people think to make the connection between TMJ pain and braces. As a physical therapist for 20+ years, Gail Molloy has seen TMJ multiple times and routinely sees patients whose TMJ pain is a direct result of wearing braces.

“While braces effectively straighten your teeth, they also stress your jaw joints and muscles,” said Gail Molloy. “The movement created by braces can also create an imbalance of the forces between the top jaw and bottom jaw. These imbalances can lead to pain or discomfort.”

Braces can force the lower jaw into an awkward position. Over time, because those joints and muscles are forced to move and operate in a suboptimal way, it creates added stress that leads to jaw pain.

“Because the most common goal of braces is to straighten teeth, not enough attention is paid to how this course of treatment can and does affect oral posture and jaw positioning,” said Gail Molloy. “Patients undergoing orthodontic treatment may want to get a physical therapy evaluation to ensure braces are not doing more harm than good.”

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