How to Prevent Jaw Fatigue When Scuba Diving

mask with snorkel

After a dive, have you ever felt like your jaw is still clenched onto the regulator? When you’re swimming underwater, has it ever felt like the regulator is going to jerk free from your mouth at any moment, causing you to increase your grip on it? After a dive does your jaw ache? Then this guide on how to prevent jaw fatigue when scuba diving will show you what changes you need to make to decrease discomfort during and after a dive, and what you may be doing wrong that can increase the chances of jaw pain, fatigue, and inflammation.

What is Diver Jaw Fatigue?

An aching jaw is one of the most common complaints new divers have, after difficulty clearing a flood mask. Usually, a new diver will experience jaw discomfort, even if they’re using the best dry snorkel. But why? A new diver may forget to relax their jaw when they’re underwater or may find gripping the regulator tighter more comforting. If a diver rents their scuba gear, then they may not be familiar with the make and model of the regulator and may set it up incorrectly. All of these factors can be the root cause of an aching and tender jaw after a dive.

Additionally, if the BCD has been positioned too high or low on the scuba tank, it can result in a hose that’s too short, which can cause you to pull the mouthpiece out when you turn your head. This can cause the diver to instinctively bite on the mouthpiece harder than they should, in order to prevent the mouthpiece from falling out. However, if a diver is experiencing jaw discomfort, despite making changes to the BCD position, then they may need to upgrade their equipment.

For divers who simply can’t handle the pain and discomfort that’s linked to traditional scuba diving gear and regulator use, learning how to freedive can be a better alternative.

But, if you’re determined to find a solution to your issues with discomfort during a dive, then there are some changes you can make.

Complications

If you already have preexisting issues with your jaw, such as TMD or TMJ, then diving can make these problems worse. But why?  In scuba diving, the mouth and teeth are very involved. If either the teeth or mouth is in poor condition and the condition is not addressed properly, the diver can find themselves suffering from gum tissue problems, jaw pain, or pain in the center of the tooth caused by changes in pressure. These problems combined are referred to as diver’s mouth syndrome which is fairly common, however,  it’s not often reported because the symptoms such as facial pain and headache can also be attributed to other conditions.

As you already know, the mouthpiece is an essential piece of diving gear. Unfortunately, when it comes to fit it, standard regulators do not fit anyone perfectly. The mouthpiece design has not changed since it was first designed in the 1940s and it continues to cause jaw pain and other dental problems in divers.

Because the mouthpiece is too small for most drivers it causes the jaws to clench tighter which can lead to joint inflammation and stress. The added stress of dragging around a large regulator through the water using your teeth can lead to temporomandibular joint syndrome, also referred to as TMJ. Symptoms of this syndrome include pain in the jaw and face, headaches, ringing in ears, and difficulty chewing.

For divers who are already prone to TMJ, this is especially problematic. Aside from making conscious efforts in order to relax your grip on the regulator, using a customized mouthpiece can also make your diving experience more comfortable.

Mouthpiece Options

Breathing from a regulator several feet below the water’s surface for an hour or more on a regular basis isn’t natural. This is why many divers suffer from aching facial muscles, headaches, and jaw fatigue. Over time, a diver can become accustomed to the discomfort that comes with clamping down on a regulator. However, many new divers are not used to this type of pain, which can cause them to quit diving. Research has shown that poor mouthpiece design is the leading cause of jaw pain and damage in more than 40% of divers.

A traditional mouthpiece is made out of hypoallergenic silicone and features an ergonomic design that’s shaped for the average person. However, since everyone has a differently shaped mouth, these mouthpieces will not work well for everyone. A shorter mouthpiece tab will require the user to grip the regulator using their side teeth, which is not the most comfortable or natural position.

These days, a diver can have their own custom-made regulator created via a special mold for the mouth. A custom-molded mouthpiece is designed to fit the diver’s mouth precisely, taking into consideration the shape of the gums, teeth, and mouth, in order to provide max support, eliminating jaw fatigue. These mouthpieces feature longer bite tabs that the user can easily grip using their back molars, allowing for a more natural position when the mouth is closed.

Regulator Swivel Adapter

If a mouthpiece that doesn’t fit well isn’t to blame, then a swivel adapter may be the next best alternative. A swivel adapter features a three hundred and sixty-degree swivel design that allows the wearer to achieve freedom of movement, without the usual type of tension in the jaw that a diver can experience when they clench their jaw to hold onto the regulator, in order to prevent it from being pulled out of their mouth.

This type of adapter will attach between the hose and 2nd stage, allowing for freedom of movement. The swivel will rotate freely, helping to reduce the tension that’s placed on the mouthpiece and 2nd stage regulator. Using an adapter will also allow you to comfortably share your regulator since the adapter is more maneuverable. Keep in mind, using an adapter will also mean you have an additional piece of gear that you need to check for a point of failure or for leaks.

Other Ways to Reduce Jaw Pain During and After a Dive

Even if you change the type of mouthpiece you use you can still experience jaw discomfort. So what else can you do?

  • First, relax. Relaxing can help to prevent you from biting down so hard on the regulator and will work to release jaw pressure
  • Take a look at the tubes that connect to your tank and the mouthpiece. If the tubes are not long enough to allow you to move your head around freely then that can cause you to bite down too hard on the mouthpiece
  • Don’t wait, make a switch to a customized mouthpiece before your next dive. Visit your local dive shop where you’ll find a wide selection of moldable mouthpieces. These kits are easy to use, all you have to do is heat up the mouthpiece in water, bite down on the material, and wait for it to harden into the shape of your mouth. This type of custom fit well ease tension in the jar when you’re diving. some models also feature larger bodies so your back teeth can be used in the biting effort, which helps to further reduce pressure on the jaw.
  • Even if you don’t own scuba gear you can still use a custom mouthpiece on a rented regulator.

Treatment

If you’re dealing with jaw pain, there are some things you can do to alleviate discomfort.

  • Use an over the counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory.
  • Use ice and heat to reduce inflammation
  • Avoid eating crunchy foods or chewing gum while you’re experiencing jaw pain or discomfort.
  • Rest your mouth as much as possible.
  • Avoid diving until you’re no longer experiencing jaw pain and discomfort
  • If symptoms persist make an appointment with your dentist or primary care physician

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to prevent jaw fatigue when scuba diving you can make the necessary upgrades to your gear and use a mouthpiece that’s a better fit and one that will not aggravate underlying conditions such as TMJ. For many, a custom mouthpiece is the best way to go, since many models also incorporate the back teeth, which makes the regulator easier to grip. Additionally, the use of a swivel adapter will also allow you to relax your jaw, instead of desperately gripping the regulator, in the fear that it will become pulled out due to a shorter tube design. By following these recommendations, you can enjoy a more comfortable dive without the pain and discomfort during and after your latest diving experience.