Best Ways To Manage TMJ Jaw Pain
Jaw problems related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are referred to as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) or TMJ disorders. The skull and the lower jaw connect at the TMJ. Jaw pain and discomfort radiating from the TMJ and surrounding jaw muscles can trigger headaches, ringing in the ears, neck pain, and painful clicking and popping in the jaw. Symptoms may not be long-lasting for some people, but for others the pain and discomfort caused by simple facial movements can be excruciating. Constant jaw clenching and teeth grinding can make the pain worse.
Bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching) is linked to stress and anxiety which causes sleep disruption, TMJ headaches and jaw pain. Generally, people are unaware of these "brux" behaviors that occur during sleep. However, these night-time habits are often the main culprits of orofacial pain.
Other causes of TMJ jaw problems can be linked to arthritis, dislocations, injuries, or infections of the TMJ. It is important to consult with an orofacial pain specialist, to rule out these underlying conditions. If there are concerns, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended as a diagnostic tool.
There are several pain management methods for TMJ jaw pain.
- home self-care
- relaxation exercises
- jaw exercises
- massage therapy
- physical therapy
- stretching exercises
- chiropractic adjustments
- oral pain relief medication
- topical pain relief drugs
- teeth protection (night guards/mouth guards)
- behavior modification
- relaxation therapies
When possible, avoid pain treatments that have side effects.
Prescription drugs such as muscle relaxers, steroids and Botox injections that are used on a regular basis can have nasty side effects.
Prescription opioid drugs including codeine, hydrocodone, Vicodin, oxycodone, morphine, propoxyphene (Darvon) and fentanyl can cause severe addiction. The side effects include constipation, nausea, sedation, drowsiness, foggy brain, itching, dizziness, depression, sweating, weakened immune system and slowed breathing. A painkiller prescribed by a doctor cannot work without addressing the cause of the pain and should never be the first line of treatment.
Overuse of Botox injections to paralyze the jaw muscles can lead to deterioration of cartilage in the jaw.
Non-prescription painkillers like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen and naproxen are the most recommended by doctors. However, they too, have side effects.
- Long term use of aspirin can cause stomach bleeding and lead to stomach ulcers. Aspirin is a type of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). It’s one of the oldest of this classification of drugs.
- Never give aspirin to children because of the risk of a life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome, which attacks the liver and brain.
- Too much acetaminophen, especially if taken while drinking alcohol, can cause liver damage.
- Ibuprofen, a more recent NSAID, can cause stomach and/or kidney problems.
- Naproxen is also a NSAID with similar side effects.
Surgical procedures of the jaw are costly and invasive and have shown to offer only temporary relief. In fact, the most recent scientific reports state that TMJ pain is best treated with non-surgical options and that invasive surgeries should be the last resort for treatment.
While night guards and mouth guards protect teeth, they are uncomfortable and unsanitary, and often promote teeth grinding and clenching. Night guard users sometimes develop breathing problems and sleep apnea because of wearing the wrong type of night guard. An orofacial pain specialist/dentist should be able to construct a specialized appliance to protect your teeth without blocking airflow.
It's best to first try non-invasive and holistic approaches to pain management.
There are many ways to reduce suffering from jaw pain based on simple behavior modifications. For example, minimizing wide jaw movements such as chewing, yawning, singing, and screaming can be helpful.
Chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists who specialize in TMJ treatment are trained in jaw muscle release and TMJ treatments. These hands-on treatments help manage jaw pain, TMJ headaches and other types of TMJ-related pain.
These types of treatments will not be long lasting unless self-care is practiced at home. Home practices including jaw and facial exercises, proper tongue positioning, body posture awareness and self-massage with an OTC topical pain relief medication that is safe for the delicate facial skin such as TJz Balm™. Self-care is one of the most important and cost-effective ways to manage jaw pain.
While there are a variety of over the counter (OTC) topical pain relief creams and ointments, the ingredients and potencies vary widely. They are used for a range of ailments from arthritis to nerve, joint and muscle pain. TJz Balm™ is the first organic OTC night-time topical pain relief drug that was formulated to be effective for joint and muscle pain, yet gentle to be used on delicate skin areas like the jaw, neck and behind the ears. It is made with just seven botanical ingredients. The patent pending formula and hands-free massaging applicator allow for deep penetration and relaxation. Each ingredient serves a purpose, including organic English lavender for night-time aromatherapy. In addition to its natural pain-relieving ingredients, TJz Balm™ has botanical ingredients that moisturize and nourish delicate skin areas.
Relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, and a healthy "soft foods" Mediterranean diet may also help to calm, reduce stress, and alleviate discomfort associated with TMJ inflammation.
To minimize TMJ pain, sleep on your back or try using a buckwheat neck roll pillow to support your neck.
A multi-faceted approach of self-care and holistic interventions are often all that is needed for the treatment of bruxism and mild TMJ disorders. Prescription medications and invasive treatments may only be required for problematic cases until the underlying conditions are addressed. However, long term use of harsh interventions can have detrimental effects on your health.
Make an appointment with a TMJ specialist or orofacial pain specialist to learn more about your jaw problems and to discuss a treatment plan that's best for you. It's important to talk to your TMJ specialist about holistic and non-invasive ways to relieve jaw pain from the TMJ. Remember that self-care practices are essential to managing TMJ jaw pain.