When I was 2, I face-planted into the corner of a coffee table. The treatment consisted of a couple stitches in my forehead and some baby-Tylenol (the table just had to deal with the teeth marks I left in it). Back then, my parents didn't know that I would have benefited from bodywork to help heal the trauma. That initial injury was exacerbated by multiple whiplash injuries and poor posture in my youth plus habitual jaw clenching. It's no wonder why I experienced consistent pain and tension in my jaw for most of my life! After getting regular bodywork for years, I'm just now starting to experience what the "healthy" range of motion feels like for my jaw.
Receiving Intra-Oral massage was life-changing for me. After 30 years of compounded tension, I stopped having chronic headaches and the achy tension in my neck and shoulders greatly diminished. Chewing food was no longer fatiguing to my jaw. It no longer "pops" loudly and painfully every time I yawn. My face shape has even changed. Previously when I smiled, the right side of my face looked slightly compressed, as though I was starting to wink. After a few months of regular treatments focusing on my jaw, head and neck, my facial structure came into better balance. My grandmother even remarked that I looked different but she didn't know why!
Though my jaw tension began from a physical trauma, jaw problems can also be the result of emotional or mental stress. Whether it be from clenching teeth in anger or stress, or not expressing thoughts and feelings, jaw tension is a common issue that many people experience at some time or another. It can lead to teeth pain, dental problems, TMJD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), headaches, and chronic neck and shoulder tension.
So if you've experienced physical trauma to your jaw or head, clench or grind your teeth when stressed and struggle to fully express yourself, then you can see why your jaw might be constantly holding tension and pain! Regardless of the cause of jaw pain and tension, Intra-Oral massage is an immensely helpful treatment method. In my experience as both a recipient and practitioner, the relief and results are immediate.
So what exactly is Intra-Oral massage?
As the name implies, it is massage INSIDE your mouth. Some of the primary muscles for closing your jaw are best worked from the interior of your mouth, including the masseter and medial pterygoid. If you're clenching or grinding, these guys are working hard. These muscles are also innervated by the mandibular branch of the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for a lot of the pain you feel. By freeing up the fascia and muscle tissue around the nerves, we can decrease the pain. Also by relaxing the muscles, we enable them to return to their full length and function better which increases range of motion and allows it to be smoother (less popping, less pain!).
As with all massage techniques, each practitioner has their own style. My approach is to release the fascia and the nerves around your jaw which allows your muscles to relax and the pain to subside. I often incorporate energy balancing into the Intra-Oral massage for even deeper release of emotional holding. Wearing nitrile gloves, I work inside the mouth (with 1 or 2 fingers) using comfortable pressure. I place my other hand on your head or face to either balance energy or release the tissue from multiple surfaces. We re-assess in the moment to see how your range of motion has improved and where it still feels restricted.
What is "normal" range of motion for the jaw?
Ideally, you should be able to fit 3 stacked knuckles inside your teeth. Make a fist, extend out the knuckles from your 2nd through 4th fingers, and all 3 should fit comfortably between your upper and lower teeth. Many people can only fit 2 knuckles which is less than ideal range, but not necessarily indicative of a functional problem. If you can't fit more than 1 knuckle between your teeth, you are likely dealing with loss of function due to all the tension in the muscles and TMJ.
When is it best to receive Intra-Oral Massage?
If you have chronic tension in your neck and shoulders that isn't being helped with regular massage, you may greatly benefit from an Intra-Oral session. Releasing restrictions in the jaw allows the fascia and muscles of the upper body to relax and let go of tension held to compensate for the tension in the jaw.
Other common complaints that can benefit include:
- Limited Range of Motion in Jaw
- Tension from Teeth Clenching/ Grinding
- Pain and Tension from TMJD
- Frequent Headaches (Intra-Oral Massage and Polarity Therapy are particularly helpful if you feel too tender to handle regular massage but really need relief from head pain.)
Intra-Oral Massage is also a wonderful therapy to schedule around dental work. It can be beneficial before a dental procedure to help relax the muscles and increase the ease of opening your mouth wide for awhile. It can help post-dental work to relieve pain and decrease tension.
If the benefits of receiving Intra-Oral massage all sound good, but you're thinking it sounds too weird to receive, I can assure you it actually isn't! I thought the same thing the first time someone worked inside my mouth. I was hesitant but it felt so good that I immediately knew I needed to become certified in this technique. It provides so much relief and relaxation that people can even fall asleep during the treatment!
Don't worry about biting your practitioner. It's highly unlikely unless they are poorly trained or you're a cat. ;-)