The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your lower jaw to the skull. TMJ disorders, also known as TMD, can cause pain in your jaw joints and the muscles that control jaw movement.
TMJ pain affects how you smile, yawn and chew every day. This article will share some tested treatment modalities to get TMJ pain relief.
“As a dentist, I see many people in the office that are dealing with TMD. For many patients, these symptoms resolve eventually, but some habits will aggravate jaw and neck muscles until it becomes chronic,” stated Joel Carangelo, DDS, FAGD, and owner of BayRidge Dental.
What is TMJ?
TMJ, TMD and other jaw pain radiates from the muscles and ligaments where your skull and lower jaw meet. Used to move your jaw, neck and mouth, temporomandibular joints are susceptible to dislocation, arthritis, neck pain, headaches and clicking and locking up. Chronic TMJ or TMD are made worse by jaw clenching, chewing, swallowing or grinding teeth.
TMJ Pain Relief
In many cases, surgery can be avoided and symptoms can be managed by learning to minimize jaw movements, stretching, using correct posture and keeping muscles as relaxed as possible and with minimal wide movements when talking, chewing, and singing. Oftentimes, TMJ pain is caused or exacerbated by bruxism (tooth grinding). A jaw orthotic or splint goes a long way in minimizing discomfort under these circumstances.
Posture is Key
In today’s world, it is common to slouch forward over your phone or computer all day.. Keep an appropriate posture as much as possible by using extra pillows, desk chairs for example. This takes the pressure off of the wrong muscles and allows the weaker muscles to strengthen and support your upper back, neck and jaw. Other habits such as nail biting, tongue thrusting, and tooth grinding, can stress your TMJ. A good practice is to keep a journal for a week to get an accurate picture of these habits affect your TMJ.
While sleep is always on the list for good health, maintaining a sleep position that does not add stress to those areas in pain is important. Avoid sleeping on your stomach if possible and keep your arms and hands from pushing on your jaw. A sleep guard may be needed to keep pressure off of the teeth during the night hours.
Finding meditation techniques to help relax your body and face while quieting your mind allows you to better manage your pain. Many apps offer daily meditations, such as Calm or Headspace, or you can work one-on-one with a local mindfulness provider such as Mindful Matters.
Target Those Jaw Muscles
There are specific ways to strengthen and increase mobility in your jaw. Stretching, relaxation and strengthening all work together to give your muscles stability and relief. Physical therapy and chiropractic are also good adjuncts with treatment. Ask Dr. Carangelo about specific exercises to use for your situation.
Heat / Cold for Acute TMJ Pain
Experiment with heat or cold by using a heating pad, microwavable grain bag or cold pack for 15-20 minutes. You can also try alternating heat and cold. Be sure to use a towel between the pack and your face to avoid applying too much heat or cold to your skin.
If you have tried most or all of these options at home to manage your TMJ pain relief to no avail, you may be a candidate for a surgical approach. Surgery is a treatment of last resort and best avoided but it is sometimes necessary. Talk with Dr. Carangelo regarding surgical versus non-surgical approaches.