The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) isn’t something we think about often, but we use it constantly. It’s the joint that allows your jaw to move up, down, and side to side—motions that help you to chew, speak, yawn, and even swallow. Unfortunately, some people suffer from temporomandibular disorders (TMD), making it impossible for them to do many of these tasks without thinking about the pain in their jaw. If you suffer from TMD, the good news is that there are steps you can take to lessen or eliminate your pain. Here are some treatments you can try to soothe TMJ pain.
Ways to Self-Manage TMD
If the muscles around your TMJ are tight, massaging them may help to loosen them up, reducing the pain you’re feeling. It’s best to use a firm but a gentle circular motion to massage the muscles just underneath your ear.
You can strengthen your jaw muscles by doing a few simple jaw exercises but only do these if they have been approved by Dr. Alhadef. Most of the time, exercise will help TMJ pain, but overdoing it can sometimes make the pain worse; this depends upon the root cause of your TMD. In some cases, you may want to have physical therapy so that you have a set of exercises that you know won’t do more harm than good, rather than doing exercises at home without guidance.
3. Ice and Heat
Applying a rotation of ice and heat to your TMJ can also provide a lot of relief. If you do jaw exercises, try implementing them into your exercise routine. Before you begin your exercises, apply ice packs below your ears and on the side of your face for five or 10 minutes. Once you’re done with the exercises, wet a washcloth with warm water and squeeze it out so it’s damp, then apply it to the same area you applied the ice.
You can also do this rotation of cold and heat without the exercises in the middle, but you should be careful about how often you use this method. You shouldn’t have constant ice or heat on the joint, and although the heat may feel especially good, applying it too often can cause more inflammation and thus more pain in the long run. You can use this method several times a day so long as you take frequent breaks.
If your TMJ pain is caused by clenching or grinding your teeth at night, a nightguard will go a long way towards reducing your pain. They have the added benefit of also protecting your teeth from chipping, cracking, or becoming worn down over time. This saves you both pain and money. Nightguards are custom made for your mouth so that they’re comfortable and fit well, preventing you from clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep.
You can ease your TMJ pain with over-the-counter pain medications. You should try to select anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen or ibuprofen, as these will usually do a better job of knocking out the pain and reducing any swelling you might have. In some cases, your dentist may prescribe you prescription-strength ibuprofen or muscle relaxers.
6. Jaw Relaxation
Certain actions or postures put more stress on your jaw, which may cause your TMJ pain to become worse. You can alleviate this by trying to avoid or limit these activities. In general, try to avoid putting your chin in your hand, as this puts a lot of pressure on your jaw, and don’t clench your teeth. When you have a flare up, do your best to reduce the amount of work that your jaw has to do. Stick to soft foods, cut food into small bites, don’t chew gum, and try not to open your mouth too wide. This should help decrease your pain and may cut down on how long the flare lasts.
7. Stress Reduction
Sometimes, the root cause of TMD is stress or anxiety, which may cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth. In order to limit this, try to find ways to reduce or manage your stress and anxiety levels. You can try a number of different methods, from avoiding activities that you know cause you stress, if possible, to carving out a little time each day in which you can relax and do an activity that brings you joy or a sense of calm. You can also try learning various relaxation techniques. If you have anxiety that’s affecting your life in other ways, you may want to look into trying therapy or anxiety medication.
8. Mindfulness Practices
This is a great way to help you relax and reduce stress. The goal of mindfulness is to help you to separate yourself from the worries of today and tomorrow, and to simply live in the moment for a few minutes, focusing on the sights, sounds, and other sensations around you as you relax each part of your body in succession. This is a great way to work on learning to relax your jaw and to help reduce your overall anxiety level.
9. Neuromuscular Dentistry
If your TMJ pain is caused by a misaligned bite, neuromuscular dentistry may help to relieve your pain. This type of treatment may involve a range of different procedures, from orthodontics in the form of braces or aligners to bridges or implants. The goal is to bring your jaw into proper alignment, relieving some stress on it and thus alleviating your pain.
Although acupuncture can be a divisive subject, many people notice an improvement in their pain when they commit to regular acupuncture. Some studies have even suggested that acupuncture can be used to alleviate or soothe TMJ pain. This may make it worth a try if other methods haven’t worked or haven’t eliminated all of your pain.
TMJ pain can be frustrating and can negatively affect your daily life, but thankfully there are plenty of lifestyle changes and treatments you can try to help ease your pain. The cause of your TMD directly impacts which treatment methods will work for you, so it’s important to try to learn the cause of your TMJ pain if possible. If you’re unsure what’s causing your TMJ pain, you can schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef to figure it out and find a more successful treatment plan, helping you to live a more pain-free life.