TMJ and Voice – How Jaw Problems Can Affect Vocal Ability

Your jaw movement, or lack of movement, has a significant and important effect on your voice. TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) is not just a jaw issue…it’s a vocal problem.

  • First of all, the stiff jaw which accompanies TMJ will keep the soft palate from lifting. Try gritting your teeth while simultaneously attempting to lift the soft palate in a yawn-like sensation. Quite difficult, isn’t it?
  • A stiff jaw will inhibit the full opening of vowels, causing a tight throat instead of an open one to constrict singing.
  • Lack of mobility in the jaw will also cause a singer or speaker to form words and syllables too far back in the mouth, muffling communication and tightening the throat. This is because a tight jaw will cause the base of the tongue to contract, bunch up and pull up on the top of the larynx during articulation.
  • A jaw with TMJ can cause a singer to stop truly listening and being able to aim at pitch, especially if there is a ringing in the ears (tinnitus) to conflict with the tones a singer wants to accurately hit. To deal with this, you obviously need to address TMJ solutions, but it’s also important to get back to some pitch practice with a trusted coach.

When I was a staff-singer at a jingle company in Memphis, I once had a terrible bout with TMJ. It was so bad I had to open my mouth before they turned the mic on so my jaw wouldn’t cause a clicking sound! In my case, it was caused mostly by a new tooth filling -too high- which caused me to grind my teeth to try and close my bite. It was cured by 1. the dentist filing the filling down for a better fit, 2. using a mouth guard to stop my night-time grinding and 3. a short-term course of prescription muscle relaxer to relax my jaw. Whew!

Not all causes of TMJ are known. With singers it’s often a case of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Tight jaw contributes to tight throat. Tight throat will cause a tight jaw which is trying (tensing) desperately to articulate. When the cause is investigated, it is my experience that much can be done to alleviate the symptoms of TMJ and allow the voice to find freedom again.

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