As many as 12% of people in the United States experience chronic jaw pain at some point in their lives. For many of these people, the culprit is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Stiffness, clicking and persistent pain are all hallmarks of TMJ, and they’re not easy to ignore—nor should you! It’s always important to speak with an Eastbay area dentist as soon as you notice jaw pain, before it gets worse.
Dr. Jacqueline Lee and Dr. Edwin Kim are experts when it comes to assessing and treating San Pablo patients for TMJ, and can help each individual person explore options to alleviate their pain. But there’s another side to TMJ treatments that happens outside of the dentist’s office. Individuals need to take at-home care into their own hands (with dentist guidance). Here’s a look at some of the best at home treatments and remedies to relieve TMJ-related jaw pain.
Jaw exercises to prevent stiffness, soreness
There are many different jaw exercises you can practice to increase mobility, strengthen muscles and relieve pain. Jaw movements are easy to do and, when practiced on a daily basis, will reduce TMJ pain in the long run.
The easiest jaw exercise involves relaxing the TMJ muscle. All you have to do is place your tongue behind your upper front teeth, then allow your top and bottom jaws to separate. Allowing your bottom jaw to hang will relieve tension and minimize some of your TMJ pain.
Other jaw exercises create resistance to build up strength. One of the most effective strengthening exercises will develop the muscles necessary for chewing food. Place a thumb beneath your chin and apply gentle pressure. Slowly lower the bottom jaw, hold for a few seconds then close again.
These are just two exercises of many, and Dr. Lee and Dr. Jim can recommend a full regimen to help strengthen your jaw. Remember to complete each exercise six to 10 times per set, doing several sets throughout the day.
Mouthguards to protect against grinding
TMJ pain is often triggered when you grind your jaw. A repetitive grinding motion usually occurs as a result of stress and can happen subconsciously. As you go about your day, you might not even realize you’ve been grinding your teeth all this time! It’s a condition called bruxism.
Ask your Eastbay area dentist about getting fitted for a mouthguard. Dentists usually recommend mouthguards for nighttime use because you don’t have control over the jaws while you sleep. A mouthguard provides cushioning between the top and bottom jaws and has the added benefit of protecting the enamel on your teeth, so the repetitive grinding doesn’t cause damage.
Hot-cold therapy for pain relief
While mouthguards are great at preventing TMJ pain, there’s still the matter of alleviating pain that’s already present. A simple method for instant relief at home is alternating between hot and cold compresses.
Start by holding a warm towel along your jaw line. The heat will relax your TMJ muscle and help some of the pain subside. Intermittent sessions with an ice pack will reduce inflammation. Wrap the ice in a clean, dry cloth and press it gently against your jaw. Never put ice directly onto the skin—this can lead to frostbite and skin damage.
Apply ice packs for a maximum of 15 minutes per hour. Any longer than that can actually make inflammation worse because blood vessels widen to counteract the prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. This therapy is great for when you’re lounging at home, watching TV or scrolling.
Avoid triggering TMJ pain
The best way to treat TMJ pain is by doing what you can to avoid it. Think about what triggers the pain and limit those activities. Large jaw movements like singing can aggravate the TMJ muscle, so consider other activities you enjoy just as much that won’t cause you pain. Let your dentist know if routine cleanings trigger discomfort so they can tailor their methods accordingly.
Habits like biting your nails or lower lip can also contribute to TMJ pain. Adopt healthier outlets for expressing stress or anxiety, so you’re not unnecessarily making your condition worse. If you’re overwhelmed with stress, relaxation techniques can minimize the urge to bite your nails or lip, and alleviate TMJ pain in the long run—not to mention bruxism, if you suffer from it.
Follow up with a San Pablo Dentist
Before you start any at-home TMJ treatments, make sure you’re consulting with an Eastbay area dentist about your pain. Dr. Edwin Kim and Dr. Lee at San Pablo Dental Care will diagnose your jaw pain as TMJ and help you establish a treatment regimen for coping at home. In many cases, TMJ can fade with proper and persistent treatment. Don’t live with chronic jaw pain—learn how you can do something about it, right in your own home!