How Does Your Bite Affect Jaw Function and Your Pain?

The jaw system is composed of three major interactive components. They are:

• The temporomandibular (jaw) joints
• The jaw muscles that move and control the jaw, as well as loading of the jaw
• The teeth, through which that load is transmitted


In other joint systems of the body, there are only two interactive components; the joint and the muscles that move the joint. There is no other joint system in the body that has a component similar to the teeth that can so profoundly affect the function of the joints and the muscles of the system. This is why the fit of the teeth (the bite) is so important in the function of this joint system, and especially when there is pain in the jaw, which we refer to as temporomandibular disorders, or more commonly referred to as “TMJ”.


When you, or anyone who has most of their teeth, close your mouth, you will always close with a high degree of precision in one position — where your teeth fit together best. Regardless of how good or bad the fit may be, that is where you will always close. This closure to a precise position is controlled by a highly sophisticated physiologic mechanism called a muscular engram. It is sometime referred to as “muscle memory”. It is involved in all coordinated muscle functions, as would occur when running up a flight of stairs or riding a bicycle.


Once learned, this muscle pattern becomes automatic and can be relied on to repeat predictably when needed, without your having to think about it. With jaw closure, it would be apparent if I were to ask you to tap your teeth together repeatedly very quickly. You always close precisely in one position, as dictated by how the teeth fit. But it isn’t about a mechanical fit of the teeth – it’s about the muscles having learned, have become programmed, just where to close by the fit of the teeth. It is muscle memory at work.