So Your Jaw Hurts… What’s Really Going On?
Pain in your jaw is a condition most often caused by inflammation in the TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint. It can also be caused by a degradation of the cartilage in the joint, known as arthritis.
The medical words for this type of pain are TMJ syndrome or TMJ disorder while it’s official acronym is TMJD.
The disorder used to be called TMJ or TMD (even though technically TMJ refers only to the joint) though many people still use these terms to describe issues with this part of the body.
The joint that connects your mandible, or lower jaw, to your upper jaw is complex. It allows your jaw to move up and down, side to side, forwards and back, and any combination of those movements. It is full of different tiny muscles and ligaments to allow this movement.
To find your TMJ, put your finger in front of your ears and make a chewing motion with your mouth. You’ll be able to feel the joint moving.
After chronic back-pain, TMJD is the second most common musculoskeletal disorder. It affects between five and twelve percent of the United States population. However, only around 15% of those people will develop chronic pain associated with the temporomandibular joint.
Most people who experience pain in the jaw get it in only one side. While left side or right side jaw pain is extremely common and usually does not indicate a larger problem, in rare cases one sided tmj pain can indicate a more serious condition.
How to Stop the Jaw Pain
Temporary tmj pain, caused by inflammation to the temporomandibular joint from an increase in stress or an injury to the jaw, is much easier to treat than chronic pain.
While we still recommend consulting your doctor about any pain, temporary tmj pain might be relieved with stretching, massaging, and hot-cold treatments.
In our free tmj exercise guide, you’ll discover 3 easy stretches that you can do right now to relieve the immediate pain and strengthen your jaw for the long term.
Don’t get intimidated, but if you have chronic pain in your jaw, you’re in for a much longer journey….
Treatment can be difficult for long-term TMJD. Most of the time, doctors have trouble deducing exactly what muscles or ligaments are creating problems.
Furthermore, TMJ disorders are not particularly well researched yet. If you are experiencing intense or regular pain, consider consulting a medical professional, as TMJD can be an extremely serious condition and more difficult to treat the longer you wait.
Long-term pain can be caused by teeth grinding (bruxism), clenching of the jaw (also known as lockjaw if it gets more serious), injury to the jaw, arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid), a clicking jaw, and ongoing stress.
In fact, stress is one of the most common causes or accelerators for both long term and short term pain in the jaw. Economists have noticed an increase in tmjd diagnoses during recessions or other financial crises. If you believe you might be suffering from pain because of stress, start with some simple relaxing techniques like a warm bath before making any more drastic conclusions or looking at more serious treatment options.
After you successfully find a way to relax and relieve your tmj pain, your jaw will still need a few days for the swelling to go away. We’ve outlined a simple TMJ soft-food diet that allows your jaw to stay relaxed while you eat.
17 Treatment Options for TMJ Pain
Most people with TMJD simply rest and eat soft foods. The symptoms usually go away within two weeks. If they do not, consider moving on to some long-term treatment options.
Important note: Generally, professionals agree to avoid treatments that will change your jaw or the way you bite.
Short-term relief options:
- Medications – Pain and inflammation-reducing medications such as ibuprofen may help reduce the symptoms of TMJ in the short-term. Consult a medical professional before using any medications to treat TMJ because they will be able to offer you advice on how best to use medication and possibly prescribe you a more effective medication than you can get over-the-counter.
- Temperature Therapy – Hot-cold treatments can be effective for pain relief and to reduce inflammation. You will have to use your own judgement on what hurts and what relieves pain. Temperature therapy is nice, however, because there is little risk of causing more damage. Most doctors recommend a combination of heat and ice. Try this: Keep ice on your jaw for 5-20 minutes using an ice cup or cold-pack and alternate with a heat pack. One of the other may seem to relieve pain more. If one of these causes more pain, stop that treatment.
- Try to keep your yawns small
- Eat soft foods
- Manage stress short-term stress with meditation, exercise, or yoga
- Start TMJ exercises
Long Term Treatment Options:
- Physical Therapy – This can be a particularly expensive option, but often well worth it. Physical therapy can help to relax your jaw, and repair/rebuild muscles and joints in your jaw.
- Acupuncture – There isn’t a lot of data on whether acupuncture helps with TMJD, however there is a lot of testimonial evidence that TMJD patients have had success with acupuncture. In addition there are studies showing effectiveness of musculoskeletal disorders (TMJD is one) treatment with acupuncture.
- Biofeedback – A biofeedback specialist can work with you to become aware of when you’re putting stress on your jaw by clenching or tooth grinding. This can be a very effective and surprisingly simple treatment for TMJD.
- Massage Therapy – Massage therapy works to reduce stress, both by directly reducing tension in the jaw and reducing overall bodily stress. Both of these can help treat TMJ. Ideally, try to find a massage therapist that specifically has experience with TMJ patients.
- Yoga and Meditation Practices – Begin taking yoga classes or meditation classes. This will improve overall health and reduce stress, both of which can help TMJD resolve itself.
- Stress Management – While many of the previous recommendations are meant to help reduce stress, many people would rather try to reduce their stress directly by seeing a stress management counselor or life coach. Definitely consider this option if you know that stress is a cause of your TMJD.
- Diet Changes – A soft diet is something your doctor might recommend. Soft diets typically include well-cooked fruits and veggies, smoothies, eggs, soup, and yogurt. You might also try a Joint Building Diet.
- Posture Improvements – It may not be intuitive, but bad posture can actually increase TMJ pain. See the resources section for posture improvement techniques.
- Network with other TMJ patients - There are millions of people suffering from TMJD. These people can help support you, offer you recommendations, and more. Consider getting involved in forums online, or local groups. Because no doctors or dentists board-certified specialties in TMJD, this community can help you find a good doctor in your area to help you along with treatment.
- Jaw Surgery – Yes, sometimes jaw surgery is an option. Consider this as a last resort. There’s not a whole lot of confidence in the medical community about the effectiveness of jaw surgery to treat TMJD, and any surgery can have more complications than the previous options mentioned.
- Mouth Guard – If your TMJ is being caused by tooth grinding (bruxism), a simple mouth guard at night could help reduce the grinding.
TMJ pain is not something to which you are helpless. There are so many options to begin treatment it may be hard to decide on one. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter which one you start with. If you have the resources, try a few at once, and see what’s effective for you. Many of these options don’t have to be that expensive or time consuming either. Start now to alleviate your pain and have a healthier life.
After a diagnosis of TMJ disorder, your doctor should give you various treatment options for your jaw.
Short-term relief from medical professionals is usually based on pain medications, but there are no medications to fix the underlying problems.
Your doctor may also recommend surgery. While your doctor’s opinion on surgery is important, many professionals recommend exploring other options and getting a second opinion before committing to surgery, as there is very little information on the success of TMJ surgeries.
Jaw Surgery can also cause other problems and can take a long time to recover from.
At JawPainHQ.com, we discuss some of the alternative treatments you can do at home that don’t involve medication. While they do not replace seeking professional advice based on your individual situation, these techniques are free, zero-risk, and can help people suffering both temporary and chronic jaw pain.