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Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) refer to problems in the temporomandibular joints, jaw muscles, and associated nerves or an improper functioning between them.
Here are some at-home treatments that help relieve TMJ pain:
1. Apply a cold/warm compress
a. Cold compress
Topical cold therapy is a safe and easy-to-follow method to ease the pain encountered by patients with TMD. (1) The cold temperature exerts a mild anesthetic effect that may help desensitize the nerve endings in the area.
The numbing of the pain-ridden area may help reduce your distress, at least for a temporary period. (1)
Caution: Do not apply ice directly to your skin as it can cause frostbite.
b. Warm compress
Gentle heat therapy may yield positive results for TMD pain relief by stimulating blood flow to the affected region and relieving muscle tension and jaw stiffness to some degree.
However, as therapeutic as it may be, a warm compress is largely ineffective in extreme cases of pain.
Note: Before applying the warm compress, pat it on your hand or the underside of your arm to see if it is comfortably warm and not too hot.
Cold compress works by numbing the affected area to relieve pain. Heat therapy has also been found considerably useful for TMD pain relief.
2. Give your jaw a gentle massage
Excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth can exert undue stress on the adjoining jaw muscles, resulting in myofascial pain, which may be corrected in part through massage therapy. (2)
Massage therapy for TMD-related pain relief helps relieve tissue swelling in and around the jaw and stretch out the affected muscles to restore their proper flexibility. (1)
However, for the massage to work, it must be done correctly, or else it can aggravate your condition. (1)
Treating yourself to a gentle jaw massage may help relax the muscle tension and stimulate blood supply to TMD-affected area.
3. Perform jaw exercises
Manually stimulating your jaw by performing simple exercises can work as an adjunctive measure to improve the mobility and function of your jaw.
There is, however, a pressing need for more research to garner high-quality evidence in support of manual therapy as a legitimate treatment intervention for TMD. (5)
4. Include magnesium in your diet
Optimum levels of magnesium and calcium in the body promote muscle relaxation and also relieve muscle cramps and tension.
Since TMD may be caused by muscle tension and spasms in the jaw, foods high in magnesium can help improve the condition by relaxing the tendons and muscles around the jaw and neck. (6)
Increase your magnesium intake through foods such as spinach, kefir, pumpkin seeds, chard, black beans, yogurt, almond, figs, bananas, avocados, and dark chocolate.
Alternatively, you can take magnesium supplements on consulting your doctor or use magnesium oil to massage your jaw.
Note: Avoid magnesium supplements if you have kidney problems or take hypertension medications, muscle relaxants, or antibiotics.
5. Consume omega-3 fatty acids to manage inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in managing TMJ by subsiding inflammation and pain. Moreover, they facilitate the repair of cartilage and bones, making them stronger and flexible.
A study revealed that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids are comparable to that of anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. (7)
You can increase your omega-3 intake through food sources such as soybean oil, canola oil, linseeds, walnuts, fish oil, and flaxseed oil.
It is recommended to take 2.5–3 g of fish oil for subsiding inflammation. Avoid overconsumption as fish oil contains vitamin A, which can cause liver problems and hair loss when taken in excess.
These treatments and therapies performed by an expert can help pain relief.
1. Try acupuncture
Acupuncture typically involves the insertion of hair-thin needles at specific acupoints that lie along the meridians of your body to release tension, stress, and pain. Therefore, acupuncture therapy can be used as an adjunctive tool for reducing the intensity of myofascial pain in patients with TMD. (8)
2. Sign up for professional care (chiropractic or osteopathic manipulative therapy)
It involves customized exercise routines, massage, lifestyle counseling, and the administration of pressure and palpation for pain relief.
You can also sign up for a more hands-on therapy known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMT is a physical therapy intervention that involves stimulating connected patterns by stretching, gently pressing, and applying resistance to the patient’s muscles and joints in such a way that provides relief. (11)(12)
Self-Care to Relieve TMD Pain at Home
Here are some self-care measures that can relieve the discomfort associated with TMD.
1. Improve your eating habits
It is best to consume small but frequent meals throughout the day instead of eating the conventional three large meals in a day.
Going without food for long periods can lead to blood sugar fluctuations that are often responsible for increased grinding of the teeth. Moreover, take small bites of food, which are easier to chew and do not put undue stress on your jaw.
2. Avoid chewing gum
As your jaw is not in the best condition, it is important to keep its movement minimal. Thus, chewing gum is strictly ill-advised.
3. Use a mouth guard
You can consult your doctor about the suitability of wearing a mouth guard to prevent nightly teeth grinding or clenching if you suffer from such tendencies.
4. Modify your diet
Consuming soft foods that do not require a lot of chewing helps to rest your jaw and calm the joint inflammation. It may help to cut your food into small pieces.
5. Manage your stress
Learn stress-reducing techniques to help control muscle tension in the jaw, such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
6. Check your resting posture
Keep your jaw in a relaxed position at all times by making a concerted effort to slacken your jaw muscles. You may achieve a natural resting position by placing your upper and lower lips together but keeping your teeth apart. “Lips together – teeth apart.”
It is advised to sleep on your back and maintain correct posture if you spend a lot of time working at a desk.
7. Give your jaw some rest
Primary care for TMJ syndrome entails keeping your jaw relaxed and stress-free as much as possible.
A study showed that keeping your jaw in a resting position as much as you can while avoiding wide mouth opening is the preliminary step for relieving pain and other discomforts associated with TMD. (13)
Therefore, if you feel a yawn coming on, try not to open your mouth too wide as it can strain your jaw further. Moreover, avoid talking on the phone for long hours.
It is vital to follow self-care measures to prevent any damage to the jaws. Since injuries increase the risk of TMD, it is advised to use mouth guards, helmets, and seatbelts when required.