First, Here's How to Help Yourself
If you have pain when you chew or yawn, you know the discomfort of TMJ disorders. You may find relief with some or all of the following therapies which can be managed at home.
Most people with TMJ have relatively mild or periodic symptoms which may improve on their own within weeks or months with simple home therapy. You may find the following suggestions helpful in easing your TMJ symptoms.
Moist Heat & Cold Packs
A survey of TMJ patients, conducted by the TMJA, showed the most frequently used intervention (65% of respondents) was thermal therapy (hot or cold compresses) to the jaw. 74% of the respondents said that use of compresses resulted in a reduction of their symptoms.
- Moist Heat. If you’re experiencing a dull, steady ache rather than sharp pain, heat is helpful to increase blood circulation to the area and relax jaw muscles and improve function. Soak a couple of washcloths in warm water and hold them to your face for 20 minutes or so. You’ll want to run them under hot water a few times to keep them hot. Moist heat from a heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can also improve function and reduce pain. Be careful to avoid burning yourself when using heat.
- Cold Packs. When you feel occasional sharp pain in your jaw joints, apply a pair of cold packs which can decrease inflammation, numb pain and promote healing. Wrap a couple of cold packs in thin towels and hold them on both sides of your face for about 10 -15 minutes but not longer than 20 minutes or you could cause mild frostbite. Repeat every two hours as needed. Do not place a cold pack directly on your skin. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you re using it.
What and How You Eat Matters
Temporarily eating soft or blended foods may help by allowing the jaws and surrounding muscles to rest. Especially avoid extremely hard, crunchy and chewy foods, or foods that require you to open your mouth wide such as apples or corn on the cob. What you want are soups, pastas, and other easy-to-eat foods.
Don’t take big bites. Cut your food into smaller portions or use a blender, so you don’t have to overwork your jaw. Read our brochure for tips on maintaining good nutrition!
Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, may help.
General Dental Care
Routine maintenance of the teeth and gums is important in the overall management of TMJ disorders, as it helps to reduce the risk of dental disease and the need for invasive dental treatments. Our guide, Temporomandibular Disorders – Dental Care and You provides oral hygiene self-care tips that you can do at home, as well as suggestions for dental appointments.
Should I Call a Doctor?
After you have applied home therapies, if your symptoms don’t improve within several weeks or months, you should discuss your concerns with your primary care physician or internist. It is important that your doctor rule out any other conditions which could be causing your symptoms.
When necessary, your doctor can prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to help ease symptoms.
First and foremost, educate yourself. Informed patients are better able to talk with health care providers, ask questions, and make knowledgeable health care 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.