Treating TMJ: How to Keep Your Jaw In Tip-Top Shape

Your TMJ, the temporomandibular joint that connects your skull to your jawbone, plays a critical part in how you talk, eat, swallow, and do countless other daily tasks. And when it’s out of whack, it can really cramp your style. Jaw overuse, teeth grinding, or an injury can cause this joint to act up and cause some debilitating symptoms, including pain throughout the jaw, neck, face, and ear areas, clicking or popping, locking of the jaw, headaches, and more. While the symptoms may not be constant, someone who is prone to problems with their TMJ may experience flare ups at unexpected times or problems that persist for weeks at a time. To avoid this fate and keep your jaw in tip-top shape, here are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind.

Attempt to Reduce Your Stress Levels

In our consistently stressed-out society, the idea of reducing anxiety may seem laughable. But it’s often exactly what you need to keep your TMJ in check. Many dentists are seeing increases in TMJD diagnoses and treatments, particularly in younger patients, some of which may be chalked up to excessive stress and poor sleep habits. Women are more commonly affected by TMJD, with nine women to every one man experiencing TMJ pain. Since stress is known to contribute to muscle tension and teeth grinding, you’ll want to do everything you can to release that stress and eliminate it whenever possible. That may mean taking a careful assessment of stressful situations in your life and figuring out the ways you can improve your self-care.

Stay Away From the Worst Food Offenders

If you’re in the midst of a TMJ episode or you want to prevent one from happening, you’ll need to adopt a diet of much softer foods. Avoiding crunchy and hard foods can help, as can staying away from any foods that require you to stretch your mouth or jaw to consume them. Although nearly one in four American adults choose to have at least one piece of candy on a daily basis, remember that chewy foods are not your friend. Gummies, caramels, and sticky toffees and taffies are on the no-eat list for the foreseeable future, as is chewing gum. If you’re really in pain, chewing will only make it worse; you may need to embrace a liquid or very soft diet for the time being until the muscle can heal.

Test Some Home Remedies

Pain relievers and muscle relaxants may be prescribed in certain cases, but there may be some things you can do at home to help. Your doctor may recommend that you apply moist heat or cold packs to the side of your face affected, as this can alleviate some pain. Certain stretches and exercises can also provide relief or can make it less likely for you to experience an episode. Some experts also recommend that you sleep on your side and embrace meditation or yoga to promote relaxation. You can also increase your magnesium intake, as this can help relieve muscle tension and joint pain, or take some Omega-3 supplements to improve anti-inflammatory measures.

Try Massage, Acupuncture, or Physical Therapy

At a certain point, you may find that dietary changes and at-home remedies aren’t cutting it. You may consider seeing a specialist to treat your TMJD — though it may not be a formal physician. Roughly 92% of people surveyed feel that massage can be effective in reducing pain, so it’s not surprising that many people have turned to massage therapists to find relief. Even actress Kaley Cuoco has received head massages to treat her TMJ. Others find success with acupuncture or physical therapy to manage their ongoing condition. Because many experts believe that TMJD can be attributed to weak muscles, arthritis, misalignment of teeth, poor posture, or muscular asymmetry, physical therapy may address the root of the issue, rather than provide mere symptomatic relief. You can also give yourself a little bit of accupressure massage at home or at work to ease this tension and pain if you’re not able to get to a professional right away.

Schedule a Dental Visit

If you’re experiencing these issues for the first time or you’re in extreme discomfort and pain, it’s usually a good idea to see your dentist. Approximately 127.6 million adults visited their dentist in 2017, so if it’s been a while, it’s probably time to call for an appointment. Your dentist can recommend multiple forms of treatment and assess the extent of the condition (as well as diagnose it). In serious cases, you may need to wear a mouth guard, receive injections, or consider surgery to treat your TMJ disorder. Your dentist will be the best person to determine the next steps for treatment and prioritize your overall oral care.

Whether you’ve struggled with TMJD for years or are just starting to experience adverse symptoms, this disorder can really disrupt your life. By prioritizing treatment right away and taking steps to prevent a flare-up, you can improve your condition and safeguard your physical well-being for years to come.