Today we will be discussing self-care instructions for TMD and jaw pain. We will also walk you through what issues can arise from TMD and break down the definitions between joint dysfunction and jaw pain.
What Exactly is TMD and TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) is a term coined to cover the pain or dysfunction with the chewing muscles and muscles that move the TMJ.
The joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull is called the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). The initials refer to the joint itself.
The most important indicator of TMD is pain, restricted movement of the lower jaw and noises (clicking/popping) from the TMJ during jaw movement.
What Leads to TMD & Jaw Pain?
The exact etiology of TMD is unknown. However, many factors can predispose people to TMD, such as:
- Genetics, anatomy, hormones
- Trauma, occlusal changes, parafunctional habits
- Stress and various psychological factors
Managing TMD & Jaw Pain
Total relaxation of the TMJ and surrounding muscles can be difficult. However, allowing the jaw muscles and joints to be in a relaxed position is very manageable with practice. Regular attempts to relax the muscles through avoidance of activities that overwork the area will be helpful to reduce the pain and prevent additional strain to the area. The following suggestions should help:
Step 1: Eat a pain-free diet.
It’s important to chew as much as you can with your back teeth, and you will also want to avoid:
- Hard foods such as French baguettes or bagels.
- Chewy food like steak or candy.
To help, we suggest improving your eating practices by:
- Cutting fruit into small pieces to eat comfortably.
- Steaming vegetables to make them softer.
Then over time, you will be able to increase the consistency of your diet as tolerated.
You will also want to skip the chewing gum – the repetitive chewing motion involved with chewing gum places a great deal of activity on the TMJ.
Step 2: Apply moist heat for 15-20 minutes two to four times each day to the painful areas.
Something as simple as drinking tea can do wonders for pain.
Step 3: Avoid oral habits that put a strain on muscles or joints.
Ever bite objects like pens or pencils? This is putting pressure on your jaw. Other examples to avoid will include any sports or activity where you find yourself:
- clenching or grinding your teeth
- biting your cheeks and lips
- pushing your tongue against your teeth
- causing muscle tension in your jaw.
Step 4: Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Sleeping on your stomach puts additional strain on the jaw and neck muscles. We suggest sleeping on your back as best as you can.
Step 5: Use anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing medications.
Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin will become your best friend. These medications will help reduce joint and muscle pain, just be sure to take them as per your doctor’s suggestions.
TMD Preventative Steps to Consider
During TMD, your teeth should not be touching together except occasionally while swallowing. We suggest that you closely monitor your jaw position during your waking hours so that you maintain your jaw in a relaxed, comfortable position.
To help relax the jaw muscles, try placing your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth wherever it is most comfortable while allowing your teeth to come apart.
It’s important to recognize that injury to the TMJ and associated jaw muscles are extremely common. Even locking of the jaw is not uncommon. Most often, these symptoms will improve over time.
Changing habits, relaxing the area, avoiding additional strain or injury, and doing the above should help speed up recovery considerably.
If you need some additional help, please contact our office via our online form or call us at 905.553.8666.