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Posted on: November 1, 2021
If you’re experiencing jaw pain or soreness, it may be due to a problem with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ can actually cause pain in the jaw, face, ear and neck, as well as induce headaches or migraines.
The pain can stem from muscles around the joint or from the joint itself and, just like other joints in the body, the TMJ can develop arthritis.
Thankfully, there are a few TMJ treatments to help manage your symptoms at home. Below are just a few.
When you’re having pain due to the TMJ, what you eat can affect your symptoms. A soft diet is recommended to reduce stress on the joints and muscles. Things like pudding, yogurt, eggs and cooked pasta all will help to decrease the stress and pressure on the temporomandibular joint with chewing.
On the other end of the spectrum, foods such as raw vegetables, hard breads, meats and fruits like apples require prolonged chewing and can irritate the TMJ, causing inflammation. Habits like chewing gum or biting your fingernails also produce excessive forces on the joint and surrounding muscles.
Your posture can play a role in the pain experienced in the TMJ. Keep your teeth apart and lips together when you’re not eating or talking. Avoid opening your mouth wide when yawning to decrease pain in the TMJ as well. This can be achieved by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth when needing to yawn, thus limiting the end range of the mouth’s opening. Try to avoid leaning or pressing on the jaw while watching TV or sitting at the table.
Believe it or not, the position of your neck can impact pain in your jaw as well. Sit up straight. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, so your jaw isn’t receiving pressure from the weight of your head. Also, when talking on the phone, avoid cradling the phone between your face and shoulder.
Using heat or cold to treat the tmj pain you are experiencing can help. Placing heat over the sides of your cheeks can help with the large chewing muscles. The heat should be warm, but not hot, to prevent scalding. After applying heat, gently massage the large muscles of the face to relax them and take pressure off the joints.
If the heat doesn’t help the pain, try a cold compress or bag of ice. Be sure to place a towel around the ice bag to protect your skin.
Sometimes symptoms at the Temporomandibular Joint are caused by teeth grinding or clenching, which are often associated with stress. Engaging in meditation, relaxation, deep breathing, exercise and/or yoga can help manage your stress and relax your muscles, thus decreasing the pain.
A mouth guard may also be used to decrease the forces incurred on the TMJ from clenching and to help with the relaxation of the jaw muscles.
If pain is persistent or severe, you should see your dentist or family doctor. He or she may treat you with medications, or refer you to an oral surgeon or physical therapist.
If referred to a physical therapist, you will undergo an evaluation. At the evaluation, the therapist will talk with you about your history, measure your jaw’s range of motion, palpate the muscles in your jaw and neck, and assess your joint mobility. He or she may give you exercises for your neck and jaw, or try several modalities to help with the pain. Modalities can include heat, ice, electrical stimulation, ultrasound or dry needling therapy. The therapist may also address your posture and/or work habits.
Having problems with your TMJ can be difficult to navigate; however, with proper changes in posture, diet and activities, along with the assistance of professionals, it doesn’t have to be. There are several strategies to alleviate jaw pain and help you return to your normal lifestyle sooner than later!
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