Perhaps 10% of American adults suffer from pain in their jaw system. The jaw joint is known as the temporomandibular joint. It functions as a sliding hinge connecting your jaw (mandible) to the temporal bones in your skull.
Problems in this joint are known as temporomandibular disorders (commonly called TMJ, but also known as TMD or TMJD). These disorders can arise for a variety of reasons like arthritis, stress, or even genetics, and common symptoms can include lockjaw, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), migraines, ear pain, and dizziness.
If you suffer from TMJ and you’re hoping for a pain-free future, here are seven TMJ pain relief secrets to set you up for happier times.
According to a study published in the Journal of Dental Research in 2010, TMJ exercises, when done correctly, can be highly effective at curbing pain and increasing the mouth opening range of patients.
A few exercises can include:
- Chin Stretches
Complete this exercise by putting your hands behind your back, straightening your shoulders, pulling your chin upwards, holding for a count of ten, then pointing your chin downwards and doing the same.
- Resistance Training
In this exercise, you apply light pressure with your fingers while slowly opening and closing your mouth.
- Tongue Touches
Done by touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth while slowly opening and closing your mouth; this can help gradually increase your mouth’s range of motion.
Cut Out the Gum
This is a big one for those with mild to severe pain. Although chewing gum can momentarily provide relief from TMJ, it can often cause more damage. Chewing gum with a damaged temporomandibular joint is like running a 5k with a weak Achilles tendon. Our body needs time to heal damaged tendons, and chewing gum can continually undo that progress.
Fix That Diet
Much like gum, a steady diet of hard foods may be impeding your body from healing. Swap out raw vegetables for steamed, and avoid hard bread altogether. Keeping your diet high in foods rich with anti-inflammatory properties is also helpful. Fatty fish, broccoli, spinach, kale, turmeric, ginger, and bone broth can help keep inflammation low and allow your body to heal quicker.
This shouldn’t be a long-term solution. After a week or so, if your pain hasn’t subsided, you should contact a TMJ dentist.
Cut Caffeine, Alcohol, and Smoke
While chewing causes much of the damage to our temporomandibular joints and jaw muscles, bruxism can also contribute. Bruxism is a name for teeth clenching and grinding, which can stress your jaw muscles and joints. In fact, the force you use when clenching and grinding your teeth can be more than when you chew.
Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarette smoking are linked to an increased risk of bruxism. Try to cut back on these habits to reduce your risk of jaw-damaging bruxism. However, coffee and tea have anti-inflammatory properties. If joint inflammation contributes to your discomfort and dysfunction, small amounts of coffee or tea might be a good thing. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. On the other hand, alcohol and cigarette smoking are pro-inflammatory and can worsen inflammation.
Find Ways to Relax
Stress is also linked to bruxism. If you tend to clench your teeth when you feel stressed, tackling stress is one of the best ways to help protect your jaw. Note that you might not know you’re clenching your jaw. Listen to people who tell you if you’re clenching and grinding, or watch for the signs of it: grit or tooth pieces in your mouth, shrinking teeth, and teeth that flatten and lose their natural shape.
It’s not always easy to de-stress. There is plenty of advice online about doing it, and it all works for some people. However, do not be surprised if you need professional advice to combat stress.
Apply Heat to Sore Muscles
Muscle soreness is the most common source of TMJ pain. If you experience soreness after using your jaw muscles, apply moist heat to the muscles to help them relax. A hot shower, warm wet cloth, or heated rice socks all make good choices for soothing muscle pain.
Apply Cold to Sore Joints
Joint inflammation can also contribute to TMJ-related jaw pain. If your jaw pain is in the joint, inflammation is likely the source. Cold works best for inflammation-related pain. An ice pack works well, as long as you don’t apply it too long.
If you’re not sure what is the source of your jaw pain, applying cold is usually safer. The cold will always numb pain, but heat can make inflammation worse.
Schedule a Dentist Appointment
Home care is a great place to start when trying to relieve TMJ, but you also have to recognize when it’s not working. If you’ve been struggling to treat TMJ symptoms for months or if it’s gone away and returned, then it’s time you schedule an appointment for professional care. TMJ can be a degenerative disorder, and the longer you wait, the worse it could get.
Several drug-free TMJ treatments can help reduce the severity of symptoms and sometimes eliminate them altogether. Please call 940-322-2252 today for an appointment with a Wichita Falls TMJ dentist at StarImage Dentistry.