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How to Care for TMJ at Home, and When to Seek Professional Care

Although temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) are common, most people who get them don’t need professional care. In many cases, you can care for your TMJ symptoms yourself at home.

Here’s how to care for your symptoms at home, and when you need to see a TMJ dentist for help.

man with TMJ pain holding an ice pack to his jaw

Reduce Joint and Muscle Strain

The first thing you can do to help control your TMJ symptoms is to reduce stress on your joint system. There are many ways to do this.

First, consider trying a soft diet for a while. This doesn’t mean a pureed diet, but it does mean avoiding too many hard, crunchy, or tough foods. Don’t eat steak, crunchy vegetables, corn chips, popcorn, and other foods that are hard on your jaw for a while. Also avoid foods that might make you open your mouth too wide, like burgers on tall buns or dagwood sandwiches. And of course, don’t chew gum or any nonfood objects.

If talking is causing your jaw pain, try to find ways to talk less. If you have to communicate with people at work, substitute a few emails or texts for your usual conversation.

Be aware of things that make you open your jaw especially wide, such as yawning, and try to control them.

Manage Stress

For many people, stress is the primary TMJ trigger. If you tend to clench or grind your teeth during stressful periods, try to control your stress.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but try to find what home relaxation techniques work for you. In some cases,  you might need to enlist the aid of a friend, family member, or even a professional therapist.

OTC Pain Relievers

Of course, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers to help reduce your discomfort from your TMJ. Whatever pain reliever tends to work best for you is fine, but nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen are better if your pain is directly in the joint itself (as opposed to pain in the jaw muscles).

Always follow the dosing instructions–don’t use more than recommended unless you’ve spoken with a doctor or dentist first.

Heat and Cold

Applying heat and cold to the sore areas can also help control pain. Heat is better if you have muscle pain. It helps relax the muscles as well as resolve the pain.

However, cold is best for joint inflammation.

Not sure what’s causing your pain? Although about 90% of TMJ is caused in full or in part by muscle pain, it’s usually best to apply cold if you don’t know the source of your pain. Cold will always reduce discomfort, and it won’t cause any problems. Heat, on the other hand, can make inflammation and related pain worse.

When to Seek Professional Care in Woburn and Winchester

But how do you know when to give up on home care and seek professional help for your TMJ? You should seek help if your TMJ symptoms:

  • Don’t resolve after 7 days of home care
  • Worsen under home care
  • Resolve but then reoccur
  • Include emergency needs like a locked jaw or severe pain
  • Interfere with daily life

In these cases, your TMJ needs professional care. You should contact a TMJ dentist immediately.

If you are looking for TMJ treatment in Woburn and Winchester, please call (781) 396-8558 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Divine Smiles. We offer a wide range of TMJ treatments from oral splints to reconstructive dentistry to epigenetic dentistry.

By Ryan M. Clancy, DMD, MAGD, LVIF, FPFA, FIAPA | April 22nd, 2020 | TMJ

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