The Masseter Muscle and Its Role in Your Dental Health

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Your masseter muscle is one of the strongest and most important muscles in your cheek. It helps you raise your lower jaw, which allows you to close your mouth and chew, as the textbook Illustrated Anatomy of the Head and Neck explains. When pain in this muscle arises, it can point to a number of conditions that could have an impact on your dental health. Find out how this large muscle functions, what conditions are associated with it and what treatment options are available.

Anatomy and Function of the Masseter Muscle

The masster is a flat, thick, rectangular-shaped muscle located in front of your parotid salivary gland, explains Illustrated Anatomy of the Head and Neck. It serves as one of the "muscles of mastication," of which there are four in total: the masseter, the temporalis and the medial and lateral pterygoid muscles. Together, these muscles move your jaw up, down and side to side, helping you bite, chew and speak.

The masseter muscle is one of the strongest muscles in the group and connects your mandible, or lower jawbone, to your cheekbone. This thick muscle plays a star role in chewing due to its strength, size and location. The movement it is specifically responsible for is raising the lower jawbone.

Problems Associated With the Masseter

While you most likely won't notice your masseter during day-to-day functions, it's working hard underneath the surface, it and can become noticeable if it swells or causes pain. Here are some common reasons you may feel discomfort or pain when using your masseter muscle.

  • Dental Abscess

    If a tooth infection isn't treated, it can create a pocket of pus known as a dental abscess. Once an abscess forms, the infection can spread to nearby areas and can even affect your masseter tissue and muscle, notes a report published in the Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. In serious cases, the masseter might swell, and a dental professional may need to create an incision to drain the infection.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

    Pain in this muscle goes hand in hand with a disorder in your temporomandibular joint known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Many patients who have TMD symptoms, including tension headaches, also report pain in their masseter muscle, according to a study in The Journal of Headache and Pain.
  • Bruxism

    Bruxism, or chronic teeth grinding, clenching or gnashing, can happen when sleeping or awake and cause your jaw muscles, including the masseter, to become tired or even lock up, states the Mayo Clinic
  • Muscle Enlargement

    The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine states that chronic bruxism, stress, trauma in the area, tissue disease and some rare genetic syndromes can result in an enlarged masseter muscle, which may cause pain.

Treatment Options

When your jaw muscles hurt, it can be hard to maintain essential daily oral care, such as brushing and flossing, so it's important to make an appointment to seek treatment.

Your dental professional can treat a dental abscess by draining the pus, performing a root canal procedure to save the tooth or extracting the tooth, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Treatments for TMD and bruxism are often complex. According to the Mayo Clinic, your dental and medical team can work together to address bruxism with stress-reduction techniques, medications and possibly mouth guards. Cleveland Clinic cites botulinum toxin injections as a leading treatment for the painful effects of TMD because the toxin helps relax the muscle. Botulinum toxin injections can also treat enlargement of the masseter, as the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine notes.

If you've noticed any aching or pain in your jaw or mouth, seek out your doctor or dental professional for treatment so that you can get relief and stay on track with your oral care.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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