If you’ve been diagnosed with Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, commonly known as TMJ, you might at least be relieved to have an explanation for your painful symptoms. You may have experienced pain in the jaw joint or in the muscles around it; headaches; earaches; facial pain; difficulty chewing and more. Now something can be done about it.
In our clinic, we take great care with your diagnosis, and just as much care in selecting a course of treatment. Your doctor may prescribe drug therapies, physical therapy or even surgery. Every case of TMJ is different.
What You Can Do: Take It Easy
Whatever therapies or procedures are in store, there are things you can do at home to get the most out of your TMJ treatments. These practical, non-invasive techniques will minimize strain on your jaw and help you heal faster.
-Watch Your Diet
Foods like creamed soups, applesauce and mashed potatoes may not seem very exciting, but stay with it. A diet that eliminates foods that are chewy, hard or sticky will help reduce your TMJ discomfort. Even chewing gum while you’re in treatment will aggravate symptoms.
-Limit Jaw Movement
Be careful not to overuse your jaw muscles. Stifle the yawn that you might otherwise open your mouth wide to release. Yelling at a football game, or even singing in your church choir, can cause extra tension in the temporomandibular joint. Easy does it.
-Try Gentle Jaw Exercises
The key word here is “gentle.” Your dentist or physical therapist can show you ways to move and stretch the jaw that will not aggravate your TMJ condition and can actually lessen pain. Follow their instructions closely.
-Heat and Cold
If the muscles in your face and jaw are bound up with tension from TMJ, moist heat or ice packs may help relax them. There’s a bit of an art to this. Ask your dentist how to use hot and cold therapy and for how long.
-Wear an Oral Splint
A stabilization splint, also called a bite guard, is a plastic appliance that helps prevent bruxism—that is, the habit of clenching or grinding the teeth. You may not be aware that you’re doing this, especially in your sleep. The splint is custom-made of soft or firmer plastic material to fit over your upper and lower teeth, preventing them from touching even when you clench or grind. Talk to your dentist about what style might be right for you, and then wear it faithfully during treatment.
-Manage Your Stress
Stress can aggravate TMJ pain, and having TMJ can be an added stressor in your life. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, or you feel your pain ramping up, step back for a moment and try to relax. This is a learned skill. Some TMJ sufferers practice yoga and meditation. Maybe for you it’s simply closing your eyes, practicing one of your gentle jaw stretches or reaching for an ice pack.
Be sure to make your dentist aware if you’re using any of these at-home therapies for your TMJ symptoms. Your doctor wants to know about everything that affects your process of healing.