You may not think about your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) much, but you use them a lot. The TMJ joints connect your jawbone to your skull, and is what allows you to control your mouth.
In some cases, TMJ disorders go away on their own in a few weeks or months. If your symptoms persist, there are several steps you can take that can help decrease pain and give you back your quality of life.
3 Steps for TMJ Pain Relief
If you’re feeling pain and discomfort from TMJ, the first steps to take are gradual and things you can do at home. Try changing your diet to soft foods. Soft foods will reduce the strain on jaw muscles and provide time to heal. Generally, a soft diet consists of well-cooked fruits and veggies, eggs, smoothies, soups and yogurt. Make sure your diet includes healthy portions of protein and vegetables. Avoid foods that require wide opening, forceful closure, and extensive chewing. No gum!
In addition, try gently massaging your jaw. Be sure to not use too much pressure, though, as this could do more damage than good. The next step is to try taking anti-Inflammatory analgesics like ibuprofen (NSAIDs- non steroidal anti-inflammatories drugs). When used short-term, this over-the-counter pain medication can give temporary relief while also reducing inflammation. Also, getting enough rest is another key component to aiding in TMJ pain and discomfort, so rest as much as possible.
Another way to alleviate TMJ pain is by performing relaxation exercises, especially if it’s aimed to reduce stress. Breathing exercises can help ease tension in the jaw muscles, so if you’re feeling a little tense, try inhaling for 5 or 10 seconds, then slowly exhaling. While this isn’t a true form of exercise, practicing techniques that help to relieve stress can significantly help ease TMJ-related discomfort.
When doing TMJ exercises, start slowly. You may feel some pain at first, but it should be tolerable and gradually improve. You should do TMJ exercises when you’re relaxed. If you do them when your muscles are tense, it may defeat the purpose.
Avoid clenching your teeth during the day, and make an effort to keep your face and jaw muscles relaxed as possible at all times. Also, try to keep your teeth apart and your lips relaxed.
After you’ve started eating a soft diet, taken ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories as needed, and tried relaxation exercises, continue massaging your jaw and mouth area and try the following stretching exercises:
One way to soothe and prevent TMJ pain from returning is by gently stretching the jaw and joint area. One way to stretch the jaw involves pressing the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth, then slowly opening your mouth as much as you can without it becoming painful. If you feel pain, stop performing the exercise; it may just need more time before you can engage it.
In addition to the stretching exercise described above, other stretching exercises that focus on moving the jaw on its own as much as possible without causing discomfort can benefit you greatly.
- Start with your mouth closed and relax your jaw. Have your teeth slightly apart and slowly open your mouth as wide as possible while looking up with your eyes. Hold your mouth open for several seconds, then slowly close it.
- Once your mouth is closed again, slowly move your jaw to the left side while looking to your right with your eyes (be sure not to turn your neck or head). Try to hold this position for several seconds, then move back to the center. Repeat this stretch by moving your jaw to the right side while looking left.
If you’ve tried the above steps but are still suffering from TMJ, it’s time to consult your dentist. Your dentist may recommend physical therapy or directed exercises that may include strengthening exercises.
Schedule an appointment today and find out what options you have if you’re suffering from TMJ pain.