If you read the headline of this article and you are still reading, you are likely suffering from TMD and are looking for any tidbit of information that can deliver relief. Doubtless, you have already done your research on jaw appliances, night guards, bite adjustments and even transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). But did you know that your daily diet can also impact the severity of your TMD condition and the pain that you suffer?
(Note: People often refer to this condition as TMJ but that is actually the acronym for the jaw joint that we all have: the temporomandibular joint. The painful condition that develops as a result of grinding, poor bite structure or other issues is called temporomandibular disorder or TMD.)
In this article, we are going to explore the relationship between nutrition and how your jaw functions, teaching you how to mitigate your symptoms through diet and proper eating habits.
First, if you suffer from TMD, what are the symptoms that you might experience as you eat?
- You have difficulty opening your mouth completely.
- When chewing, you experience difficulty or discomfort.
- Your jaw locks closed or open.
- You experience overall jaw pain.
Why might you experience these symptoms?
- Are you overusing your chewing muscles? If you chew gum constantly, bite your fingernails or pencils, grind your teeth, clench your jaw, bite your cheeks or lips or any of several other “busy jaw” activities, your jaw muscles may be plain old worn out from use! They may need a break.
- You may have arthritis, which damages a joint’s cartilage.
Eating for TMD Relief
Now, it probably makes sense that crunchy foods are harder to chew and, therefore, may aggravate your TMD pain. But did you know that the nutritional content of the foods you eat may also impact your condition?
According to the TMJ Association, people suffering from TMD should:
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish which are high in Omega-3, whole grains, dark leafy greens and soy.
- Increase foods that contribute to joint health, including foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium and selenium.
Recent research has also led scientists to consider whether some severe cases of TMD are caused by deficiencies in beta-carotene (vitamin A), serum iron, ferritin, folate, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B1, B6, B12 or C. This line of study is ongoing.
Here is a list of the Top Five foods to avoid if you suffer from TMD:
- High-impact foods: Avoid foods that make your jaw work harder, such as hard bread, nuts or candy. Also avoid chewy foods, such as steak or bagels. (See the soft food diet information below.)
- Inflammatory foods: Avoid foods that can fire up joint pain, such as processed foods, sugars or refined carbohydrates, alcohol and tobacco, salt and corn oil.
- Salicylates: Avoid foods that are rich in salicylates, such as dairy, olives, hot peppers and juices. (Salicylates are found naturally in plants. People with a salicylate allergy may experience jaw pain.)
- Gum: OK, this isn’t a food, but frequent gum-chewing can lead to chronic jaw pain. Give your jaw a break!
- Aggravating foods: Avoid foods that aggravate your jaw joints and muscles. Just pay attention to your body and, if it hurts, stop eating it.
Food Allergies and TMD
If you suffer from TMD, have you considered the possibility that you may have an allergy causing inflammation in your jaw joint (and perhaps other joints)? Allergens that may cause joint pain include:
- Tree nuts
If you suspect that your TMD pain could be caused by an allergen (or a less serious food sensitivity), a quick visit to an allergist could set you on the path to relief.
Integrate a Soft Diet for TMD Relief
Sadly, people who suffer from severe TMD sometimes end up losing weight, changing their lifestyles and even falling into depression due to their inability to eat properly. If you’re one of these people, take heart! A “soft diet” may be able to profoundly improve your nutrition and, thus, your life.
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.
For example, soft food ideas that are rich in protein include: Soft-cooked chicken or turkey with gravy, meatloaf, fish, deli meats, meatballs, slow cooked meats, tuna, chicken/tuna/egg/seafood salad (made without onion and celery), lox, eggs, tofu, fish sticks (battered, not crunchy), legumes, refried beans, baked beans, hummus, meat and pasta containing casseroles, quiche, refried beans and smooth nut butters.
For vegetables, you might consider cooked carrots, squash, zucchini, spinach, kale or other greens, avocados, legumes, green beans, peas, vegetable soufflé, creamed corn, asparagus tips, beets, vegetable juice or cooked pumpkin. You should avoid stringy vegetables, such as celery.
Here’s an example of a day on a soft food diet:
- Breakfast: Smoothie with fruit and yogurt, scrambled eggs
- Lunch: Beans, fish, soft chicken, ground meat or tofu and cooked veggies
- Dinner: Rice or quinoa with potatoes or soup and veggies
A soft diet regimen may not be a permanent, long-term fixture in your life. The purpose of a soft diet is to help you recover from TMD. Over time, eating soft foods can help your jaw to relax and heal, freeing you to expand your diet again as you feel better.
The TMJ Association has published a very handy nutrition guide that includes many foods that you can incorporate into your diet simply by cooking or cutting them differently. Find the guide here.
Eating for Joint Health
While you’re eating softer foods to allow your jaw joint to heal, you should also consider adding the following foods, which have been proven to enhance joint health:
- Fatty fish: A substantial amount of research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may prevent inflammation in the body and reduce symptoms associated with arthritis.
- Broccoli: According to a Mayo Clinic 11-year study, broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables were shown to protect against the development of arthritis. (Spin them into a smoothie for easier consumption!)
- Vitamin D: A recent study showed that women who consumed more dietary Vitamin D had less joint inflammation. But you could also just take a 20-minute stroll in the vitamin D-stimulating sunlight—the best source.
- Olive oil: Diets that are rich in olive oil have been shown to reduce pain and stiffness associated with inflamed joints.
- Ginger: A recent Journal of Medicinal Food article pointed to ginger’s anti-inflammatory impact on joints.
- Anthocyanidins: Anthocyanidins are potent antioxidants responsible for the reddish pigment in foods like cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and eggplant. New research suggests they reduce joint inflammation.
- Bone broth: New studies show that broths made from animal bones are rich in hyaluronic acid, which is important in promoting joint health.
- Vegetable soup: A soup rich in soft vegetables is not only easy to eat but it delivers important vitamins and minerals. Add beans for magnesium.
As you can see, there are many ways that you can reduce your TMD suffering through proper nutrition and even by simply preparing your favorite foods differently. Of course, before taking any course of action, see an approved TMJ specialist who can monitor your progress, help you balance good nutrition with quality of life, and assure that the steps you’re taking will lead to the results you desire.