The jaw joint, also known as the Temporomandibular Joint, or TMJ, allows us to open and close our mouth, and move our jaw from side to side. We use this joint anytime we talk, chew or yawn. We can develop pain in the joint due to conditions such as arthritis, ligament injuries, or from trauma to the face. The muscles of the jaw are also prone to overuse, especially with behaviors such as grinding or clenching the teeth, or chewing gum. However, there are some simple ways to reduce your pain and discomfort:
- Eat soft foods
Crunchy or tough foods, such as a streak, or nuts require a lot of force and strength from the jaw muscles. By avoiding these foods, less strain will be put on the jaw, and pain will be reduced.
- Wearing a nightguard
If your jaw pain is due to clenching and grinding of the teeth at night, a nightguard is recommended. Not only does this protect the teeth from damage, but it reduces the tension on the joint as you sleep. If you think you may be clenching or grinding at night, talk to your dentist.
- Use hot packs and Stretch
Some muscles of our neck attach into the jaw and when these become tight, they can cause pain. Using a hot pack around the neck for 10 minutes, followed by stretching the neck can help relive pain, and increase flexibility.
- Cold packs
If there is pin point pain and inflammation in the face/at the jaw, using a cold pack to reduce this swelling and pain is beneficial. Apply for no longer than 10 minutes and do not place ice directly on the skin. Always remove the ice pack once the skin is numb.
- Make time to relax/meditate
Stress causes increased tension in the muscles and can lead to jaw pain and increased clenching. Taking time to do something relaxing reduces our daily stress and tension. Try reading a book, practicing yoga, guided meditation, exercising, or going for a walk.
- Sleep Routine
Relaxing the body and mind before bed has been shown to reduce clenching and grinding overnight. Performing guided meditation or gentle stretches before bed helps prepare for a good night’s sleep. Cutting out screen time – phone, TV, computers etc. for an hour before bed reduces stimulation to the brain, and improves sleep quality.
- Avoid overuse
Our jaw is in constant use throughout the day and is opened and closed about 600 times a day. Any extra use, such as chewing gum, puts extra strain on these muscles, resulting in pain. Avoid activities such as biting your nails, chewing gum, or chewing the inside of your cheek.
- Avoid clenching
During times of stress, we are susceptible to clenching. By increasing our awareness of our mouth position and keeping our teeth slightly apart at all times, we reduce the workload placed on our jaw.
Poor posture, especially of the neck can result in increased tension of the muscles and cause jaw pain, neck pain and headaches. Increasing awareness of your posture and maintaining a neutral head position will decrease stresses placed on the jaw.
- Avoid excessive weightbearing
Our jaw is a non-weight bearing joint and does not tolerate compressive forces well. Avoid activities such as leaning your chin on your hand to reduce pressure on this joint.