The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is where the lower part of the jawbone connects with the skull. A variety of conditions, known simply as TMJ disorders, can cause intense pain and discomfort in the area. Although treatment may require medical intervention, such as antidepressants or surgery, many times the pain associated with a TMJ disorder can be alleviated through simple lifestyle changes and home remedies.
Causes and Symptoms
TMJ can occur in a variety of situations. Possible causes of TMJ pain include damage to the joint caused by trauma, overworked muscles caused by teeth grinding (bruxism), erosion of the disk that keeps jaw movements smooth and fluid, and arthritis. Many of these can be caused by underlying conditions, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and facial deformities.
Symptoms of TMJ disorders include pain, discomfort and tenderness in the jaw; pain while chewing and pain in the face; and a misaligned bite. At times, there might also be a clicking in the jaw when you open and close your mouth. Should these symptoms become severe, or if relief isn't found through home remedies or lifestyle changes, a doctor should be consulted to discuss possible treatment options.
Although nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often used to treat pain, this is incorrect for TMJ-associated pain. Instead, naproxen (Aleve) is often used, especially in conjunction with jaw-stretching exercises. Applying warm or cold packs to the affected area also can help with pain.
While sleeping, a mouth guard can help prevent unnatural grinding of the teeth. Mouth guards can be soft or firm, and although they can be purchased over-the-counter at pharmacies, they can also be custom-fitted to fit your teeth. They are effective, though they can exacerbate sleep apnea in some cases.
Finally, given that much of the pain associated with TMJ disorders occurs doing movement, the best way to alleviate pain before and during treatment is through complete relaxation of the jaw, avoiding overuse whenever possible. This can be helped by eating softer foods and avoiding foods that require extensive chewing, such as red meats. Avoiding anything chewy or sticky such as candy also is highly recommended.
Stress is a major contributor to TMJ-associated pain, and therefore a variety of stress-relieving techniques can be used to help, especially when the pain is related to bruxism. These can include: Meditation and deep breathing, allowing a complete relaxation of muscles. Repeating a simple phrase that can help you reach a relaxed state, causing you to focus on nothing but the words. Deep breathing, accomplished by sitting on the floor in a comfortable position, breathing slowly through the nose and letting the stomach expand when you breathe in. Hold this for a moment, then exhale through the mouth. Guided imagery, which involves sitting down in a comfortable position and visualizing a peaceful place or a place associated with a good memory. This can help take your mind off the pain and focus all your energy on this image.
Speak with your doctor to discuss these and other possible ways to alleviate stress and pain associated with TMJ disorders.