There are many challenges to becoming a professional singer. Unfortunately, just as you have begun to get recognition and start touring or performing regularly, your career might be derailed by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
TMJ is an incredibly common condition, affecting as much as 30% of adults at some point in their lives. With proper management, TMJ can usually be handled by you, without the need for professional care, but if not properly managed, it can be progressive, and cause irreparable damage to your jaw and your singing career.
TMJ Symptoms: What to Watch for
There are many potential TMJ symptoms to watch out for, including:
- Jaw pain or headaches after performing
- Jaw popping or clicking
- Limited jaw opening
- Tinnitus, ear pain, or vertigo
Jaw pain from performing might seem normal, but it’s actually a warning sign. It’s true that you’re working your jaw hard during a performance, but your jaw should be able to handle it without significant soreness. If it can’t it’s likely that there’s a problem, which could be TMJ.
There are many potential causes for headaches after a performance. TMJ is likely the cause if you notice that headaches either occur with your jaw pain or shortly after. They’re also probably linked if other jaw exertions (such as eating or clenching teeth) cause headaches.
Jaw popping and clicking might seem harmless, but it’s a sign that your jaw joint isn’t functioning properly. If not treated, this can lead to jaw dysfunction, including limited jaw opening and lockjaw.
To test for limited jaw opening, open your mouth as wide as you comfortably can. Then see how many fingers you can fit vertically between your teeth. If you can fit three fingers in your mouth without touching any of your teeth, then your jaw is opening a normal amount.
Any amount of ringing in your ears after a performance is a warning sign. But you have to track down whether it’s related to the amps or to TMJ. If tinnitus is associated with vertigo, it’s more likely that TMJ is the cause. TMJ is also more likely to be the cause if opening and closing your jaw modulates the sound you hear.
How TMJ Can Affect Your Singing Career
You want to prevent TMJ or treat it as soon as you identify it because it can sabotage your music career.
TMJ can make it hard to sing to the full extent of your abilities. You will find it hard to open your mouth fully, which can make it hard to project and hard to form the notes you want. Not only that, but you’ll have muscle tension in your jaw and tongue that can cause spasms and restrict movement so your singing can be even more significantly impacted.
A completely locked jaw will stop your ability to perform altogether.
With TMJ, a challenging performance schedule can become virtually impossible. Pain can make it hard to perform, and you won’t be able to perform as long as you (or your fans) would like. You may even have to cancel performances.
Tinnitus and other ear symptoms can also interfere with performances. If you can’t hear yourself, your band, or other singers, you will start to make mistakes that can ruin your performances. Vertigo and dizziness can cause you to fall during performances. You may not be able to dance or even stand while you sing.
How to Treat TMJ
Start by treating TMJ yourself. If you’re lucky, this will handle the problem and you won’t need professional treatment.
An easy preventive and early treatment step is stretching your jaw before you begin singing. But if a stretch is painful, it’s important to stop doing it and seek professional care. Just trying to stretch through the pain can damage your jaw and make TMJ worse. You can also try self-massage of your tense muscles.
Try to build rests into your performance schedule. Also try to avoid taxing your jaw between performances by talking less and eating a soft food diet. Stress can aggravate your jaw, so try to chill out between performances and avoid people and topics that cause you stress.
Apply heat to tense, sore muscles. This can help calm them and reduce pain. If your jaw joint hurts, apply ice. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication to help counter symptoms.
Seek professional care if you experience any of the following:
- Locked jaw
- Pain not controllable by over-the-counter medication
- Pain that persists for seven days
- Pain that increases or keeps you awake at night
- Pain that forces you to give up activities or cancel performances