With all the feasting going on around Lunar New Year, one set of muscles that need to be in good shape are your jaw muscles. A 'clicky jaw' - a clicking noise when you eat, a feeling the jaw has 'popped out of its joint, or pain around the jaw joint, which is the facial area around your ears - is often caused by tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. This is a catch-all term for disorders caused by your jaw muscles getting out of sync and not controlling the movement of the jaw effectively. This can cause facial pain, headaches, tooth pain, earaches, problems eating, spasms and postural problems such as holding the head tilted to one side permanently. The TMJ is the only joint in the face (all our other facial movements, including most of our expressions, are made by muscle contractions, not movements of bones). It's just at the front of the ear where the jaw forms a nice, clean angle in the young and the recently face-lifted not-so-young. What causes the muscles to get out of sync? Again, lots of things - tooth problems, especially unevenly worn teeth and muscular disorders. But most specialists agree the major cause is stress. TMJ dysfunction is a bigger problem than people realise. When it becomes a chronic, long-term condition it can be hard to reverse. And it's one that, according to the experts, is often missed by family doctors. The people best at picking it up and working out what to do about it are dentists - hardly surprising since they're the jaw specialists of the medical world. If you have a mild case that hasn't been going on for long, there are some simple things you can do to correct the problem. The first is to chew evenly - not so easy if you didn't know you weren't chewing evenly in the first place. Your dentist can check your teeth and your bite and work out whether you're chewing too much on one side and advise you on how to correct it. There are devices you can wear to correct uneven chewing as well, but these are not always the most attractive or comfortable headgear, so correcting the problem by consciously chewing both sides evenly is a better way to go - if you can achieve it. You can also help yourself by consciously unclenching your teeth and not gritting them or grinding them when under stress - driving, queuing, struggling through the world's most boring report due by the world's most unreasonable deadline. Again, a lot of people don't know they're grinding their teeth. Grinding, or bruxism, is something humans do throughout their lives. Some mothers hear their toddlers grinding away at their tiny milk teeth in the middle of what should be happy baby dreams. People suffering from stress at work commonly grind away during their dreaming sleep. The first sign this has been going on could be a jaw that starts clicking when you eat, or head pain that won't go away. Chewing gum, though good for getting saliva working, can also make TMJ dysfunction worse, as can chewing very hard, chewy foods. There's also an exercise recommended to help balance your bite. Try to bring your lower teeth forward so they jut out in front of your upper teeth - the super jaw look. I tried this and failed miserably: maybe I've got undiagnosed TMJ dysfunction. Lastly, the best cures are achieved by knowing what the basic problem is. This usually involves X-rays or an MRI scan or both. So, if you're having jaw pain, chronic ear pain, face pain or jaw problems when chewing and eating, see a dentist or an orthodontist before you start trying all the 'cures' on offer (and the internet is full of them).