Temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) refers to a group of conditions that cause pain in and around the jaw joint (referred to as the Temporomandibular joint or TMJ) and nearby muscles that affect jaw movement.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, the vast majority of whom are women (90%), though only about 5 to 10 percent of people who experience symptoms need treatment. It can cause a range of frustrating symptoms, including pain and discomfort in the jaw, difficulty chewing, speaking or laughing, and headaches.
While some cases of TMJ pain may resolve on their own, others may require natural remedies and/or professional treatment to manage symptoms and prevent further complications.
The most important first step is to have the problem examined thoroughly before you attempt any therapies, especially since some of them are irreversible despite providing no relief.
In fact, scientists at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recently claimed that doing nothing might actually be the best and natural cure for TMJ disorders.
Diagnosis of TMJ
Jaw problems are often characterized by swelling on the side of the face and pain in the jaw joint and nearby areas, including the ear, neck, and shoulder, impacting your ability to eat, chew, swallow, speak, and even breathe.
Initially, these problems were believed to be brought about by orthodontic issues such as improper bite and jaw position, prompting interventions directed at realigning the teeth with braces and replacing missing teeth. However, subsequent studies revealed that malocclusion was an infrequent trigger for TMJ symptoms.
Instead, the cause was found to be multifactorial, with behavioral, social, environmental, biologic, cognitive, and emotional factors contributing collectively to trigger the signs and symptoms.
If you suspect that you have TMJ, your dentist will require your medical history, in addition to performing a physical examination to check for signs of muscle tenderness and pain in the jaw, limited jaw opening, and any popping noises. In some cases, MRI and CT scan with a cone-beam image can be used in diagnosis.
Natural Treatments for TMJ
Most people with TMD experience relatively mild or periodic symptoms that may improve on their own within weeks or months of simple remedies. It is for this reason that most experts recommend that patients seek reversible treatments whenever possible. In other words, the treatment used should not result in permanent changes to the teeth or jaw.
Common natural treatments include:
1. Resting the jaw
Resting the jaw is an effective natural way to improve TMJ symptoms. This involves taking a break from activities that involve excessive jaw movement, such as chewing gum, eating tough foods, or talking for extended periods. Resting the jaw can help to relieve the tension and pressure in the jaw joint, allowing it to heal and recover from any strain or inflammation.
To rest the jaw, people with TMJ should:
- Avoid clenching or grinding their teeth, as this can further aggravate the condition.
- Try to maintain good posture, avoiding slouching or tilting the head forward, as this can place additional strain on the jaw and neck muscles.
- Use a soft diet or take frequent breaks during the day to rest the jaw and reduce stress on the joint.
- Substitute hard or crunchy foods that require a big bite with soft foods – Changing your diet to soft foods that don’t require a lot of chewing allows your jaw to rest and heal. Best foods include fish, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, fruit smoothies, yogurt, etc.
- Consume anti-inflammatory foods to reduce swelling and joint deterioration. Omega-3s fight inflammation naturally and can help improve circulation. Sources include salmon, sardines and mackerel.
- Eating regularly every few hours also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and help prevent teeth clenching out of anxiousness
Individuals with TMJ may also benefit from using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, as these can help to reduce stress and tension in the body and promote relaxation of the jaw muscles.
2. Gentle jaw stretching and relaxation exercises
While you should avoid putting pressure on your jaw in general, mild jaw stretches and muscle-relaxing exercises can help promote jaw movement and range of motion. One study conducted by the Tokyo Medical and Dental University discovered that jaw workouts reduced TMJ symptoms even better than jaw splints and did so faster.
You can work with your doctor or a physical therapist to identify TMJ exercises that you can do at home for a few minutes one or two times each day.
Some of them include:
- Jaw stretches: Open your mouth as wide as you comfortably can, hold for a few seconds, and then close your mouth slowly. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
- Chin tucks: While sitting upright, tuck your chin towards your chest, hold for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
- Neck stretches: Gently tilt your head to the side, holding for a few seconds, and then switch to the other side. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
- Shoulder shrugs: Raise your shoulders up towards your ears and hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times.
- Relaxation exercises: Take a few deep breaths and try to relax your jaw and facial muscles. Focus on releasing any tension you may be holding in your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
It’s important to note that these exercises should be done gently and without causing any pain. If you experience pain or discomfort during any of these exercises, stop immediately and consult with your healthcare provider.
3. Routine use of moist heat or ice packs
Moist heat or ice packs are often used to manage the symptoms of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. Both can be effective in reducing pain and inflammation, although the choice of which to use depends on the individual’s preference and the specific symptoms they are experiencing.
Moist heat can help to relax the muscles and improve blood circulation in the affected area. This can reduce pain and stiffness, and promote healing. To use moist heat for TMJ, a warm, moist towel or cloth can be applied to the affected area for 20-30 minutes, several times a day. This can be done by soaking a towel in warm water and wringing it out before applying it to the face or jaw.
Ice packs, on the other hand, can help to numb the affected area and reduce swelling. To use ice packs for TMJ, a cold pack or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel can be applied to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day. It is important to avoid direct contact between the ice pack and the skin, as this can cause frostbite.
It is recommended to alternate between moist heat and ice packs to help manage TMJ symptoms. This can be done by using each for 10-15 minutes at a time, with a break of at least an hour in between.
4. Over-the-counter medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can help relieve pain and inflammation associated with TMJ. These medications are available over-the-counter and can be taken as directed.
5. Prescription medications
Depending on the severity of your TMJ symptoms, your doctor or dentist may prescribe some medications, including anti-anxiety medicines to help relieve stress; muscle relaxants to help loosen tight jaw muscles; or anti-depressants to control pain.
The right medication depends on your specific symptoms as follows:
- Muscle relaxants: If the TMJ pain is caused by muscle spasms, muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine or diazepam can be prescribed by a healthcare professional to help relieve the symptoms.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs such as amitriptyline can be used to manage TMJ pain as they can help relieve pain, promote sleep, and reduce anxiety.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation in the joint. They are usually injected directly into the joint by a healthcare professional.
- Botox injections: Botox injections can be used to paralyze the muscles responsible for jaw movement, which can help reduce pain and muscle tension.
Keep in mind that all medications can have potential side effects and should only be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Additionally, medications may not be effective for all cases of TMJ and other treatment options may be necessary.
6. Stabilization splints (night guard or biteplate)
Stabilization splints, also known as bite splints or occlusal splints, are a type of dental appliance that can be used to manage temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. These splints are custom-made to fit over the upper or lower teeth and are designed to help reduce the intensity and frequency of TMJ symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and popping/clicking of the jaw.
When used properly, stabilization splints can provide a number of benefits for individuals with TMJ disorders, including:
- Reducing muscle tension: They can help to reduce the amount of tension in the muscles of the jaw, face, and neck, which can contribute to TMJ pain and discomfort.
- Protecting teeth: Individuals with TMJ disorders may grind their teeth or clench their jaw during sleep, which can cause dental damage and exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Stabilization splints can provide a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth, reducing the risk of dental damage.
- Promoting proper jaw alignment: In some cases, TMJ disorders can cause the jaw to become misaligned, which can contribute to pain and discomfort. Stabilization splints can help to promote proper jaw alignment, reducing the risk of TMJ-related symptoms.
However, stabilization splints are not suitable for everyone, and in some cases, they may even exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Additionally, these splints may need to be adjusted or replaced over time to ensure optimal effectiveness.
Irreversible treatments for TMJ
If none of the other treatments work, your dental specialist may recommend an irreversible treatment. Examples of irreversible treatments are:
- Mandibular repositioning splints
- Extensive dental work
- Adjustment of the bite
- Surgical procedures that may include replacement of parts or the entire jaw joint
Most dentists agree that TMD treatments work best in combination.
How long does it take for tmj to go away?
In some cases, TMJ pain may resolve on its own within a few days or weeks with self-care measures such as jaw rest, ice or heat therapy, and over-the-counter pain relievers. However, in more severe cases or cases where underlying conditions are present, TMJ pain may persist for several weeks or even months.
Treatment for TMJ pain may involve a combination of self-care measures, medication, and physical therapy. In some cases, dental or orthodontic treatment may be necessary to address underlying causes of TMJ pain. The length of treatment can vary depending on the severity and complexity of the condition.
It’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you experience persistent or severe TMJ pain, as early intervention can often lead to faster recovery times and better outcomes. To promote a speedy recovery, it’s important to follow the prescribed treatment plan, get plenty of rest, and avoid activities that aggravate the condition.
Find professional TMD treatment
The variety of temporomandibular diseases and disorders poses challenges for the diagnosis and treatment of TMD, yet an accurate diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment. For instance, surgery on the TMJ may not have any effect on a patient experiencing pain in the jaw muscle. So, if you are experiencing symptoms of TMJ disorder, you should speak with a qualified dental professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.