All cases of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) aren’t caused by the same condition or set of conditions. Often times, TMD is blamed on stress, even though that is simply an exacerbating circumstance. The actual underlying issues are varied as it’s usually caused by an anatomical misalignment, and sometimes by injury or chronic condition like arthritis, and sometimes by bad habits. Oftentimes these and other circumstances work together to exacerbate the problem.
All causes aren’t the same, and so not all treatments are the same, either. This is why it’s important to talk to a specialist who can help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your TMD so you can find an effective treatment. Still, some symptoms of TMD can be alleviated by the same treatment, regardless of the cause. Let’s look at some common treatments that can alleviate (and even eliminate, in certain cases) TMD symptoms.
- Over the counter analgesics – Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are all good general pain relievers you probably have in your medicine cabinet already. Not for extended use, but as an occasional form of relief they can really do the trick. Be aware that they don’t actually fix anything. Your body isn’t missing pain medication, or any medication for that matter. These may help get rid of the symptoms of the problem, but the problem will still continue to degrade and over time may well be harder to deal with adequately.
- Moist heat and/or cold packs – The gentle warmth or cooling comfort of moist heat or cold packs can relieve some of the tension that may be causing your pain and discomfort. Try one on your sorest spot and see what happens. Again, this is a remedy for the symptom and not the culprit. Long term solutions should include immediate relief of the symptoms as well as some kind of plan to eliminate the underlying cause altogether.
- Soft diet – Chewing hard, crunchy, or chewy foods can irritate an already sore jaw, so to avoid doing so, try a soft diet. Yogurt, creamy soups, mashed potatoes and gravy, Jell-o and pudding, smoothies, and shakes are good contenders. If you can drink it or swallow it without much chewing, enjoy it! It goes without saying that if your quality of life is being impacted by your poor bite, the best approach would be to correct the system and get healthy again.
- Relaxation techniques – Obviously stress and tension aren’t the root cause of your TMD, however you may be experiencing stress and tension because of it. Try some relaxation techniques to ease the tensions and stress. Yoga, meditation, exercise, massage, and guided imagery are all stress-relief techniques to consider. Give one or more a go and see how they work for you and your TMD. Being centered and feeling calm is good regardless of overall health.
- Side sleeping – Some TMD is caused by what you do when asleep. Try sleeping on your side with pillows between the shoulder and neck for support. Wouldn’t some TMD relief be a wonderful thing to wake up to? If your sleep is being affected by how your bite fits, be sure to find the articles related to the dramatic impact of your bite on sleep and the life saving power of getting that managed. Literally; life-saving!
- Jaw exercises – You’d think working your jaw would be the last thing to try for TMD, but gentle jaw exercises can actually help. By gently stretching your jaw muscles while supporting your jaw at the same time, you can actually prevent the need for a jaw splint. Try yawning while holding your chin on your fist. Try small O’s with your mouth, gradually making them larger. Try pulling down on your lower jaw just until it hurts, then holding it for 30 seconds and letting go. Repeat this 3 times. Do this after every meal and then again at night before bed. If you can’t comfortably perform these exercises, then you are already past due to be evaluated by a well trained Neuromuscular Dentist.
- Change some bad habits – Sometimes bad habits are the root cause of TMD. Therefore, be aware of these bad habits you currently indulge in and try to change or avoid them. Some bad habits that can lead to TMD are:
- Clenching your teeth when angry or stressed. This isn’t your fault. It is physiology – but it is caused by a poor bite so you can get some help.
- Working your jaw when angry or stressed. Stop being angry! 😉
- Chewing gum. If the system is broken or dysfunctional then you want to be careful about overuse until you get that corrected.
- Grinding your teeth. This isn’t a habit so much as a natural response by your body to a poor bite. Get that evaluated.
- Holding the phone between shoulder and ear. Postural pressures can add up over time.
- Resting your chin on your hands
- Tilting your head to one side when reading or watching television
- Improper posture when sitting at a desk or computer
- Allowing stress to build up instead of dealing with it and relieving it
- Sleeping on your stomach or back
- Biting your tongue – Not really, but keeping your jaw slack and allowing your tongue to slip forward between your top and bottom teeth can prevent teeth clenching and jaw working. You don’t want to actually bite your tongue, but keeping it placed gently between your teeth can remind your jaw to not Many people unconsciously do this because it holds the muscles of the face in a better and healthier position. If this helps you or you find yourself bracing on your tongue often, you have a bite issue and an airway issue. The sooner you get some help the better off you will be!
- Facial massage – Gently massaging the face and neck muscles can help to relax them and relieve the tension and tightness of the jaw joint. While a full body massage may not be possible every day, you can massage your own face and neck as often as you feel necessary. You’d be surprised at the relief a massage can provide. Doctor’s orders… go get a massage!
Eliminating the cause of your TMD may require professional assistance from a neuromuscular dentist, which most commonly begins with the creation of an orthotic– it looks like an athlete’s mouthguard and repositions your bite often eliminating pain. But as the saying goes in the world of TMD, less is best, and many of troublesome symptoms can be dealt with at home on your own.
Give the suggestions above a try and see which ones prove most beneficial to you. We hope you find some relief as soon as possible!