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That Tooth Ache May Not Be the Tooth

That Tooth Ache May Not Be the Tooth
Toothache Muscles 3 Muscles That Cause Tooth Pain & Unnecessary Dental Procedures

We know that trigger points can be excruciatingly painful, but who knew that some might literally cause you to pull your teeth out?

We often complain about the lack of myofascial education in the medical profession. Calculations are made each year of the number and cost of unnecessary surgeries and other procedures performed due to improper diagnosis. Many of these cases result from completely overlooking myofascial pain caused by trigger points.

However, there is one group of professionals who is starting to break that trend ... dentists!

Surprisingly, tooth pain often times comes from muscles rather than from anything wrong with the tooth itself, and the dental industry is realizing it! This article from DentalEconomics.com discusses trigger point pathways and highlights a 2011 report in JADA which revealed that 680,000 teeth had procedures performed when the tooth didn't end up being the source of the pain ... That's a lot of unnecessary procedures in a single year!

Unfortunately, some of us still learn the hard way, after already having dental procedures performed with little or no success. In this issue of Musculoskeletal Health Update, we are going to show you the 3 Muscles that cause a lot of dental complaints: Masseter, Temporalis, & Digastric. Each muscle has a distinct pattern of pain that refers to the teeth:

Masseter Temporalis Digastric

As shown, the Masseter refers pain to the back teeth, top and bottom. The Temporalis refers pain to the whole set of upper teeth, moving backward tooth by tooth accordingly with the location of the trigger point along the lower edge of the muscle. Meanwhile, the Digastric refers pain to the only the front bottom teeth.

Once again, these amazingly detailed referred pain patterns come from Dr. Janet Travell and Dr. David Simons' extensive research and writings (Myofascial Pain & Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual).

Of course, it is always important to maintain dental health and to be evaluated by a qualified dental professional to determine whether you have a more serious condition ... But as we have seen time and again, these trigger points can be treated effectively with simple methods, and a lot of tooth pain and unnecessary dental procedures can be avoided!

So, let's look at how to evaluate and treat these 3 muscles! Enjoy and pass along this information to any of your friends and family who have teeth!

*The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition and does not substitute for a thorough evaluation by a medical professional. Please consult your physician to determine whether these self-care tips are appropriate for you.

Correcting Dysfunction of the 3 Muscles that Cause Tooth Pain: (Masseter, Temporalis, & Digastric)

First, let's perform 3 simple tests of function:


TEST 1: Smooth Straight Quiet Jaw Opening (click picture to play video)

Instructions: Face a mirror. Place your first two fingers over your TMJ and slowly open and close your jaw. You should see smooth straight opening and closing and should not feel or hear any clicks or grinding, as shown in the video.

TEST 2: Two-Knuckle Jaw Opening

Instructions: Try to place your two knuckles of your non-dominant hand in between your top and bottom incisors. If your jaw cannot open wide enough to fit both knuckles, one of the 3 toothache muscles may be the culprit.

TEST 3: Palpation

Instructions: Follow the video to palpate each of the 3 toothache muscles. Instructions for finding the landmarks are given in the treatment section below.

Now, let's correct the trigger points in 2 easy steps!


You may use a towel that you have wet with hot water and wrung out or a microwavable pack or other moist heat source ... just make sure not to burn the sensitive tissues of the face.

STEP 2: COMPRESSION with RANGE OF MOTION: (click pictures to play videos)

For each of the 3 muscles, use your self-care tool to compress taut bands and sore spots to tolerance. Maintain compression through two slow jaw opening and closing cycles for each point you treat, as shown in the videos below:

MASSETER - upper portion

Instructions: Find your cheek bone and slide downward off of it. That is the upper portion of the Masseter.

MASSETER - lower portion

Instructions: Find your jaw bone (Mandible) and slide upward off of it. That is the lower portion of the Masseter.


Instructions: Find where your cheek bone continues back behind the eye to the temple region of the head. Slide up off the cheek bone into the muscle tissue. That is the beginning of the horizontal line along which the main trigger points in the Temporalis are found. As you saw in the referred pain drawing in the section above, this line continues to just behind the ear. Treat all these points.


Instructions: The Digastric is made up of two portions that form a sling from the back of the jaw to the front, as shown in the referred pain diagram in the section above. Even though the trigger point that causes front lower tooth pain is in the portion under the chin, it is still a good idea to treat the whole muscle.

Watch the video to see how to find and treat both portions. Start behind the jaw bone (Mandible) and come around the angle and underneath it all the way along until the chin.

If your tooth pain is being caused by referred pain from these 3 muscles, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by performing these simple tests and corrections!

Until next issue ... Enjoy!

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