When you wake up, do your temples and jaw ache as if you clenched your jaw while you slept? When you take that first bite of cereal in the morning, do you wince because your muscles ache? Do you get tension headaches that start in your temples and won't dissipate? Do your ears ache, or do you pop your jaw constantly?
If you have two or more of these symptoms, then you could have a TMJ disorder, or inflammation and pain in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The disorder can happen because you grind your teeth, experience stress, or have a misaligned jaw. No matter the cause, TMJ disorders cause pain, stress, and a decreased quality of life.
Luckily, TMJ disorders are highly treatable. Below, we list a few ways to treat the disorder and explain why you should turn to your dentist for help.
1. Use Ice Packs and OTC Medication
Ice reduces swelling in your muscles and joints, and your TMJ is no exception. If you wake up with jaw pain and discomfort, then wrap an ice pack in a towel and hold it against your jaw for 10 to 15 minutes. Just remember to never place ice or ice packs directly against your skin. Repeat this process as needed throughout the day.
You can also combine ice packs with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, like aspirin or acetaminophen. Read the instructions on the bottle and only take as needed.
2. Reduce Stress During the Day
TMJ pain can be caused by tooth grinding, or bruxism, during the day and at night. If you don't think you grind your teeth, then pay attention to your body when your stress or anger levels rise during the day. You could find that you grind your teeth unconsciously as your body reacts to stress. Grinding your teeth at night can stem from the same problem.
If you experience high stress levels throughout the day, consider going to therapy or practicing meditation or other calming techniques. You may find that gentle exercise like yoga can reduce your stress too. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) also helps you recognize when you're experiencing stress and anxiety so you can take steps to reduce those feelings in your everyday life.
Bad posture can also contribute to jaw pain. If you notice that you hunch your shoulders when you're anxious or tired, then make a concerted effort to stand or sit up straight.
3. Exercise Your Jaw
All of your joints and muscles require exercise to stay flexible, including your TMJ. Strengthen your jaw with the following exercises:
- Push your thumb against your chin, tilt your head slightly down, and gently open and close your mouth.
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your teeth, then slowly open and close your mouth without moving your tongue.
- Keep your head level while looking up. Gently open and close your mouth.
Remember that exercise shouldn't hurt. If performing any of these exercises hurts your jaw and exacerbates your pain, then stop immediately and visit a specialist.
4. Visit Your Dentist
You may grind your teeth or clench your jaw because your jaw is misaligned - but you probably can't tell on your own whether your jaw aligns correctly or not. If your jaw aches constantly, then schedule a visit to your dentist. If it's nearly time for your six-month checkup, bring up the issue during your visit.
Your dentist will pay careful attention to your jaw and check for signs of wear on your teeth that could indicate that you grind your teeth at night. Your dentist can then prescribe solutions like:
- Wearing a night guard to reduce pressure on your teeth while you sleep
- Prescribing stronger painkillers than OTC medications
- Recommending surgery or Botox treatments in extreme cases
Worried you might suffer from a TMJ disorder? Turn to Steven Devins, DDS. Our office offers same-day and emergency appointments along with typical checkups, so schedule a visit to start reducing your TMJ pain today.