Pain in your jaw or Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), can be caused by a variety of factors, and can vary in severity from mild to intense. It may be triggered by something as innocuous as chewing gum all day, or by something more problematic such as grinding your teeth. Whatever the cause, pain in the jaw joint is unpleasant, particularly when it spreads up the side of the face. It’s also quite likely to affect both sides of the jaw and can guarantee you a miserable day.
The good news is that by taking simple steps to change the behaviour that’s causing your TMD, and using remedies to alleviate the pain, you may be able to rid yourself of the discomfort it brings.
- If you have jaw pain on a regular basis, the first thing to do is to pop into your dentist for a check-up. This is the only way to make sure you don’t have a tooth abscess or other dental problem that’s affecting your jaw. If your teeth aren’t the culprits, it’s quite likely that your dentist will be able to pin-point the cause of the pain, by asking you questions about when it occurs and what you may have been doing to cause it. Habits you’re unaware of can have a knock-on effect on your jaw muscles.
Your dentist may prescribe a mouth guard to be worn while you sleep. These are similar to the ones used for sports, and are made specifically for you. If successful, a mouth guard will stop you grinding your teeth in your sleep and ease the tension on your jaw muscles, leading to pain relief.
- Once your dentist gives you the all-clear, you can work on getting rid of TMD yourself. Over-the-counter pain relieving anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen can help with the discomfort, while reducing swelling in the jaw muscles. This is fine for short-term relief, if your TMD isn’t a regular thing. It is preferable, however, to find the cause of the TMD and address it, rather than taking pain killers in the long term.
- If your jaw pain feels like a sharp jab, a cold compress or cold pack might help. Nerves are numbed by applying cold to the affected area, which has the effect of minimising pain signals to the brain. Take care however, not to apply anything really cold directly to your face. This could damage your skin, and may even cause mild frostbite. Wrap the cold pack in a cloth instead, and apply it to the sore area for no more than 10 minutes, repeating every couple of hours.
- If the pain is a continuous dull ache, like a toothache or earache, a hot compress might work better. Dull achy pains usually mean that the problem is the muscles, which are likely to be tense and cramping. Apply a cloth wrung out in hand-hot water and hold it on for around 20 minutes, re-warming it as necessary. This should help your jaw muscles to relax.
- Stay away from crunchy foods as they put quite a strain on your jaw muscles. Stick to softer foods until the pain starts to diminish. Cut your food into smaller pieces so your jaw has less of a mouthful to chew. Avoid chewy sweets and chewing gum. Rest and relax your jaw muscles as much as possible, to allow your muscles to heal themselves.
- Massage can also be helpful in relieving jaw pain. Massage techniques you can use include kneading, friction and stretching movements.
- Jaw exercises can help relieve stiff and cramped muscles. Proper exercises can assist with stretching, relaxing and strengthening the jaw muscles, while increasing mobility and helping the muscles to heal.
- Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Stress can lead to jaw-clenching, muscle tension and teeth grinding, which have a harmful effect on your jaw muscles and nerves. Taking a 20-minute meditation or yoga break during your day can help you to unwind and relax all your muscles, not just your jaw, making it easier to cope with stressful situations without tensing up.
- If your day involves a lot of sitting, take note of how you sit at your desk or table. Do you tend to lean forward a lot? If so this can make your chin jut forward, putting strain on your back and neck, which transmits to your jaw. Try sitting straighter in your chair, with a good support behind you. If you use the phone a lot while you’re typing, for instance, use a headset instead of trying to hold the phone handset between your cheek and your shoulder. Such simple changes can banish jaw pain quickly and easily.
- Hard though this one might be, lay off the tea, coffee and caffeine-laden soft drinks. Caffeine has a tensioning effect on muscles and can make TMD worse.
- Try not to open your mouth too wide. Huge yawns or singing at the top of your voice with your mouth wide open can really strain the jaw muscles. If you have to yawn, open your mouth as little as you can manage.
- A good half-hour of aerobics exercise three to four times a week, or more often if you can, will help you relax, generally reducing muscle tension and stress. This will produce endorphins, a naturally-occurring pain killer that your body releases in response to exercise. All of these will positively effect your muscular jaw pain, as well as the rest of your body.
- Allowing your back, shoulders and neck to be out of their normal alignment on a regular basis can cause knock-on problems with your jaw. If your work requires you to carry heavy items, or you habitually wear a massive shoulder bag full of stuff, find a way to redistribute the weight more evenly on both sides of your body. Move your shoulder bag from one shoulder to the other regularly or divide the contents between the two bags. Better still, see if there’s a trolley or a wheelie bag available.
All these remedies and checks are a simple but effective way to alleviate the pain of TMD. Sometimes all it takes is a slight lifestyle tweak to free yourself from jaw pain for good.