Self-Care for TMJ Disorder

by Stacy Stone

Treatment for TMJ disorder can vary from simple, self-care to complicated surgical procedures. It is very important when seeking TMD treatment that the patient exhausts all conservative options before moving on to invasive treatments.

When you first believe that you may have a temporomandibular joint problem, there are things that you can do at home to relieve your pain, such as:

  • Eating soft foods such as yogurt, eggs, cereal, oatmeal, etc. (we will have an article on nutrition soon) to give your joints a rest. Avoid hard, crunchy foods (raw vegetables, chips, nuts), chewy foods (hard rolls, bagels, gum), and large foods that force you to open your mouth wide (hamburgers, big sandwiches, hot dogs, etc.).

  • Moist heat or cold packs - If both are used, apply ice first, then do gentle stretching as directed by your physician, and apply heat. You can make your own heating pack by either wetting a washcloth or towel and microwaving it, or putting rice in a tube sock and microwaving that.

  • Take Medications - Try over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen. (PLEASE NOTE: Most, if not all medications have the potential to produce side-effects. Please ensure you exercise caution when taking any medication and if you experience any side effects, you should stop taking the medication immediately and seek professional help. Always read the label and use medication only as directed.)

  • Avoid yawning widely, resting your chin on your hand, resting the phone on your shoulder, or excessive talking. Try and practice good posture.

  • Be aware of clenching and grinding - Try to keep your lips together and teeth apart. If necessary, set an alarm for every ten to fifteen minutes and check to make sure you are not clenching or grinding. This will become a habit.

  • Try to avoid situations which are known to cause you to feel stressed or emotionally traumatized, since this can exacerbate symptoms (many people clench or grind their teeth when under stress). Some people go through stressful situations prior to developing TMJ disorder, but there is definitely a physiological factor involved as well. This point has been debated by patients and physicians for many years. Some patients do not believe that emotional factors play a large part in their disorder, while others do. More research needs to be completed regarding this issue.

  • Gentle exercise, relaxation techniques, and meditation are helpful with pain. There are many websites and books that can help to teach you these techniques. Some patients have found that Yoga or Pilates is helpful as well.

  • Proper Sleep & Diet. You would be surprised how much proper sleep and diet helps with pain. Depriving your body of much needed sleep can have negative effects.

There is a rough estimate that at any given time, there are over 10 million people in the United States suffering from TMJ pain. The majority of these patients find that self-care modalities do relieve their pain. A very small percentage go on to have more advanced treatment, however this usually does not include surgery for TMJ.

Being proactive in your healthcare is extremely important. Trust your instincts, know your body, and as always, do extensive research before committing to any treatment or procedure. Many patients find self-care methods extremely helpful for improving their pain and do not need to go on to further treatment.

Last updated: July 20, 2007

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