Intraoral Massage

One regular client of mine usually comes in with shoulder, neck and jaw pain. She especially feels chronic jaw tension which has been diagnosed as TMJ.  Unconsciously but relentlessly, she clenches and grinds her teeth.  She has chewed through two night guards. She has been to dentists, orthordontists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and naturopaths. It is a constant battle with the stress of a rigorous job for which she travels internationally, a marriage, an ill parent for whom she is the power of attorney, and she is trying to manage her own health. Fortunately she does factor in her own health. For this, I am proud.

Whenever I get to see her for a massage, I make sure to do intra oral massage. She is a great candidate because of the obvious clenching and grinding.

Many people clench and grind their teeth these days. It seems like an obvious place to beat up on ourselves actually. Our verbal communication has become more restricted as a society. The less we talk, the more stuck these jaw muscles become. Remember, a tight muscle isn’t always strong-tight like after pumping iron; it is often weak-tight. With lack of fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients, a stagnant muscle gets glued down to surrounding structures.  Picture a caterpillar larvae embedded in its caccoon before breaking out with its new wings.

Anyway, I read somewhere the other day, “Real communication is done over a phone conversation.” Hilarious! Probably this writer was taking a sardonic view on our communication culture.  Sure, phone communication is a step up from texting or emailing, but what happened to talking face to face, where you get to make eye contact, observe smiles and grimaces, and pick up on subtle facial expressions that really show a deeper story in this human being?

Nowadays we like to text, email, tweet, send newsletters and blog posts to keep up with the Jonses.  Do you ever think about the implications on our bodies? You are more than likely aware of the  effect on your neck and shoulders and arm muscles.  I know I have touched on it with an earlier post, “Computer-itis”.  The forward posture for long periods of time with such intense focus does numbers on our back and neck muscles.  But what about the lack of speaking, lack of verbal expression, lack of primal like communication that is also taking place? I think about these things. Maybe that just makes me weird. Maybe it’s also why I sing when I’m alone in my car.

I want to take you through the process of unwinding that happens with Intraoral massage.

The first step with doing Intraoral massage is to use latex gloves. I carefully put them on and am careful not to snap the glove on my wrist, to avoid conjuring images of other not so comfy healthcare workers. I ease into her mouth with one finger hooking the lip and gliding over the top teeth like I’ve caught myself the prettiest marlin in the sea.  I land on the upper gum line and surf slowly deeper and superior at an angle toward the ear.  I check in with her: “How’s that pressure so far?”

She gives me a slight nod or a thumbs up or an eyebrow raise in curiosity to let me know it’s fair game.  The tissue feels taut and angry up on the lateral pterygoids. This is a muscle that is chronically short and embedded by  surrounding fascia.  My job is to hook that fascia, stretch that fascia, bring blood to this area, and let that little butterfly of a muscle free! So I do just this, slowly, confidently, with intention, imagining the potential of a free pteregoid and a nice slack jaw bone. I spend about 2 to 3 minutes on this one spot. She breathes and breathes. Then, we both feel the release.  I slowly remove my finger. I notice that side of her face looks rosier and more supple.  I smile at her and ask how she feels.

“That was good,” she says with a deep sigh.  I could really feel it was tight. I could feel it up in my temples too. She gently rubs her cheek and temples. “It feels so much more open on this side already.”

“Good! Should we even out the other side?”

After the massage has ended and she’s dressed herself, she emerges from the massage room with a bright smile and fully flushed cheeks.

“Thank you so much. I feel so much better.”

“Look in the mirror. You got yourself a pretty big smile there.”

“Wow, I do!” She traces the perimeters of her now prominent rosy cheekbones. “I feel like its easier to smile!”

I hand her a glass of water. “Cheers to the cheapest facelift in town!”

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