How can I Manage TMJ Jaw Pain?

M.C. Huguelet

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, joins the lower jawbone to the skull. Sometimes, factors such as a sudden injury, stress, or a tendency to grind the teeth during sleep can cause this joint and the muscles around it to grow stiff and sore. TMJ jaw pain can inhibit your ability to chew, talk, or even smile. Luckily, there are several ways to manage TMJ jaw pain. These include taking medications, applying cold and heat to the jaw, avoiding very hard or chewy foods, wearing a bite guard, and performing relaxation exercises.

A person with TMJ.
A person with TMJ.

One of the most common treatments for TMJ jaw pain is medication. You may wish to try taking an over-the-counter pain medication to ease the immediate pain in your jaw. Medications can also be useful in treating the underlying condition which may be causing your jaw pain. For instance, if your TMJ jaw pain is caused by stress-induced clenching, you may benefit from using an anxiety-reducing medication. Your physician can help you determine whether the source of your jaw pain can be addressed with drugs.

An ice pack, which can help with TMJ pain.
An ice pack, which can help with TMJ pain.

Some people find that applying cold or heat to the side of the face can improve muscle function and alleviate TMJ jaw pain. You may wish to try holding an ice pack to the affected area for several minutes, repeating as necessary. Alternatively, you might prefer to apply a small towel which has been soaked in very warm water and wrung out slightly. When applying heat, always take care to avoid burning the skin.

Chewing foods that are very hard or very sticky can further aggravate TMJ jaw pain. Thus, during a jaw pain flare-up, you may wish to eat soft foods. This might include eggs, pureed fruit, mashed vegetables, and oatmeal.

You may find that using a bite guard helps relieve your TMJ jaw pain. This U-shaped piece of flexible material is placed around the top teeth at bedtime. As you sleep, it helps immobilize your jaw, discouraging grinding and clenching.

Finally, if your TMJ jaw pain is caused by stress, you may wish to regularly participate in relaxing activities to help clear your mind and relieve your worries. This might include taking yoga classes or getting massages. It can also include very quick and simple relaxation techniques. For instance, you might wish to take a ten second “time out” when you begin to feel stressed, using the time to close your eyes and breathe deeply.

TMJ syndrome may cause tooth and ear pain.
TMJ syndrome may cause tooth and ear pain.

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