Often jaw problems resolve on their own in several weeks to months. If you have recently experienced TMJ pain and/or dysfunction, you may find relief with some or all of the following therapies.
- Moist Heat. Moist heat from a heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can improve function and reduce pain. Be careful to avoid burning yourself when using heat.
- Ice. Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain and promote healing. Do not place an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you are using it. Do not use an ice pack for more than 10 - 15 minutes.
- Soft Diet. Soft or blended foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily. Remember to avoid hard, crunchy, and chewy foods. Do not stretch your mouth to accommodate such foods as corn on the cob, apples, or whole fruits.
- Over the-Counter Analgesics. For many people with TMJ Disorders, short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort. When necessary, your dentist or doctor can prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to help ease symptoms.
- Jaw Exercises. Slow, gentle jaw exercises may help increase jaw mobility and healing. Your health care provider or a physical therapist can evaluate your condition and suggest appropriate exercises based on your individual needs. A recent study found therapeutic jaw exercises bring earlier recovery of jaw function compared to splints! Click here to read the specific jaw exercises used in this study.
- Relaxation Techniques. Relaxation and guided imagery can be helpful in dealing with the pain that accompanies TMJ dysfunction. Deep, slow breathing enhances relaxation and modulates pain sensations. Some have found yoga, massage, and meditation helpful in reducing stress and aiding relaxation.
- Side Sleeping. Sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck.
- Relax Facial Muscles. Make a concerted effort to relax your lips, and keep teeth apart.
- Yawning. Use your fist to support your chin as you yawn to prevent damage to the joint and prevent your jaw from locking open.
In addition, avoid:
- Jaw clenching.
- Gum chewing.
- Cradling the telephone, which may irritate jaw and neck muscles.
Be sure to discuss your jaw limitations with your doctor prior to surgery or a long dental appointment so he/she uses extreme caution. Anesthesia, often used during dental procedures, can affect mouth opening and damage the joint. If possible, avoid long dental appointments requiring an open mouth for more than 30 minutes. For more information about this topic, please review our Dental Hygiene Brochure (.pdf).
Remember, if your TMJ problems get worse with time, you should seek professional advice. However, first and foremost, educate yourself. Informed patients are better able to talk with health care providers, ask questions, and make knowledgeable decisions. By seeking out the information on this website, you are on the road to being an informed patient and better able to help yourself.
We suggest you read through and print out our list of questions (.pdf) to ask your doctor prior to consenting to any treatment.
The Latest In Science on Self Management
- Self-management in temporomandibular disorders: a systematic review of behavioural components.
Story WP, Durham J, Al-Baghdadi M, Steele J, Araujo-Soares V.
J Oral Rehabil. 2016 Oct;43(10):759-70. doi: 10.1111/joor.12422.
The aim of this qualitative systematic review was to identify the behaviour change techniques most frequently employed in published temporomandibular disorder (TMD) self-management (SM) programmes. The reviewers matched the components of SM programmes into the relevant behaviour change technique domains according to the definitions of the behaviour change taxonomy (version 1). Electronic databases were searched for randomised controlled trials assessing an SM programme for TMD. Manual searches were also conducted for potentially important journals. Eligibility criteria for the review included: the type of study, the participants, the intervention utilised and the comparators/control. Fifteen randomised controlled trials with 554 patients were included in this review. The review concludes a minority of the available behaviour change techniques are currently employed in SM programmes. Other behaviour change techniques should be examined to see whether there is a theoretical underpinning that might support their inclusion in self-management programmes in TMD. Further trials are required to conclude that SM programmes are more effective than no treatment at all and or placebo. With more structured SM programmes, greater therapeutic benefits might be achieved, and certainly if SM programmes published in the literature define their components through use of the behaviour change taxonomy, it would be easier for clinicians to replicate efficacious programmes.
- Counselling and self-management therapies for temporomandibular disorders: a systematic review.
de Freitas RF, Ferreira MÂ, Barbosa GA, Calderon PS.
J Oral Rehabil. 2013 Nov;40(11):864-74. doi: 10.1111/joor.12098.
The aim of this review was to investigate the effectiveness of counselling and other self-management-based therapies on muscle and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain relief and increasing the functional abilities of patients with temporomandibular disorders (TMD). A systematic literature review was conducted by three independent reviewers and included articles published up to 2012. PubMed and Cochrane Library electronic databases were used in addition to hand-searching to assess clinical outcomes for counselling and self-management approaches for TMD treatment. The review yielded 581 records that were narrowed down to 7. All included studies were classified as blind-randomized controlled clinical trials. The selected articles analysed revealed that counselling was able to improve tenderness upon masticatory muscle palpation and maximum mouth opening with and without pain in patients with TMD, with similar results to those of interocclusal appliances approaches. Thus, counselling- and self-management-based therapies could be considered a conservative low-cost and beneficial treatment alternative for treating TMD to potentially improve psychological domains and remove harmful behaviours for the control of the signs and symptoms of TMD.