Have you ever been under so much stress that you found yourself clenching your jaw? The muscle tension may have even given you a headache, but at least when experiencing acute stress this is generally a temporary problem. For those with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), this type of jaw pain is a daily occurrence. And it’s not just painful – it can even lead to serious dental health problems. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be permanent.
For those with TMJ, there are a number of treatments that can potentially minimize daily pain, leading to improved function and preventing tooth damage. Though the best treatment varies by patient and depending on severity, these 5 approaches can all offer relief.
Hot And Cold
TMJ has many causes, ranging from nighttime tooth grinding, tooth clenching, to jaw misalignment, but all of these can cause muscle spasms and aches. Like other muscle complaints, though, patients can also get relief from TMJ by applying warm towels to the jaw or ice packs. Just be careful not to apply the ice directly to the skin, and don’t apply it for more than 15 minutes at a time.
Cut Out The Crunch
Some patients with TMJ find that they have trouble fully opening their mouths, which can make it hard to eat chewy or crunchy foods, or anything that requires a wider bite, like a sandwich or burger. Even for those who don’t have a hard time eating can benefit from a change in diet. Patients should avoid hard foods, like apples and raw carrots, as well as chewy foods like bagels. It’s also important to avoid chewing gum, as this can irritate the jaw muscles.
While heat and cold treatments as well as dietary changes can provide relief for those with mild TMJ, other cases require more significant support. That’s why, if these first line interventions fail, it’s worth seeing a dentist knowledgeable in TMJ. Dentists can provide a specialized night guard to help realign the teeth and jaw, and others use special treatment protocols including ultrasound and muscle therapy to address the problem.
Many people take medications like Advil and Tylenol for muscle pain, but these are less than ideal over the long-term and many don’t find that they’re effective against the muscle spasm characteristic of TMJ. A better option, then, are natural treatments, such as St. John’s wort. Taken as a tincture, St. John’s wort can treat muscle spasms; it can also be massaged into the jaw and is especially effective when combined with skullcap or chamomile.
Managing Mental Health
Though physiological issues like improper jaw alignment obviously contribute to TMJ, jaw tension – like other kinds of muscle tension – can be made worse by stress and anxiety. That’s why it’s important for TMJ patients to manage psychological stress, whether through meditation, exercise, or therapy. Anxiety is the leading cause of tooth grinding, so other treatments are likely to be ineffective unless patients address this root issue.
Many people will experience at least a brief period of TMJ symptoms during their lives; it’s the third most common sleep disorder in the United States. If you can recognize the symptoms, however, you can act quickly to minimize their severity and the resulting pain.