Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, is a widespread medical problem causing ongoing headaches, facial pain, and the characteristic pop and click of the jaw. Starting with a misalignment of the jaw, TMD is in most cases caused by stress, but can also arise from teeth that don’t fit together, orthodontia, or grinding teeth. The disorder can also start from habits like balancing the phone between your ear and shoulder, or injuries that impose upon normal jaw alignment, like whiplash.
As the disorder is often underdiagnosed, it is uncertain how many people have it, though an approximate 10 million Americans are estimated to suffer from TMD. Some individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing these symptoms, including women, who are twice as susceptible to getting TMD than men. Taking birth control or post-menopausal estrogen can also increase a woman’s risk of TMJ problems.
TMJ disorder is a problem most insurers consider when underwriting a health plan, as it can lead to needing dental work, surgery, or indicate high stress, which can also pose many medical risks. Your rates can increase as a result, leading to more expensive insurance for you. The good news about this disorder is that its symptoms can be treated at home effectively, and even overcome in certain cases by reducing stress levels and eliminating habits.
How to Treat TMD at Home
To improve blood flow and release muscle tension, gently massage the muscles right in front of your ears while opening your mouth. Do this throughout the day, placing your forefingers on the sore areas, going in circular motions, and pressing lightly until the muscle is relaxed. After you feel some relief, close your mouth and repeat.
Apply Heat or Ice
Heat is a great muscle relaxant, especially when your pain is a dull, continuous ache. Use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm compress (washcloth soaked in hot water) to relax muscles in the neck, shoulders, and jaw. With warm compresses, you’ll want to run them under hot water every few minutes to keep the temperature up.
For sharp, occasional pain in the jaw, cold temperatures are more effective. Cooling down with ice or a cold pack will numb the nerves, making the pain messages sent to your brain less significant. Apply cold packs wrapped in thin cloths to both side of your face for about 10 minutes, but not longer than 20 as mild frostbite can occur. Repeat every two hours for the duration of your pain.
Sitting up straight throughout the day, as opposed to leaning forward and straining your neck, is a good way to eliminate pressure if you work at a desk. Make sure your back is supported and your chin is in the right place. If your chin is pointed out, away from your body, or you are leaning forward, the back and neck become strained, and jaw pain ensues.
Those who use the phone throughout the day should get a headset to avoid the stress of cradling one on your shoulder. Make other adjustments to your work setup in order to reduce strain and avoid leaning forward, like getting a larger monitor or using a document holder.
Calcium and Magnesium
Adding powdered calcium (500 mg) and magnesium (250 mg) to a glass of juice each morning will help strengthen your bones and increase muscle relaxation. The powdered form absorbs more quickly and easily, but if you have trouble finding it, a supplement will suffice. Working together, these minerals are known to release muscle tension, and therefore may help your jaw loosen up a bit.
Head to the sporting goods store and reminisce on your team sports days by getting a mouth guard to reduce teeth grinding. If you need a more customized fit, visit your dentist for a medical grade mouth guard. Using a store-bought guard can also mold quite well to your teeth and create a good enough barrier to prevent grinding.
One of the main contributors to TMJ problems is stress, and practicing relaxation exercises can prove very helpful, among other techniques. Control your stress by deep breathing, acupressure, exercise, ambient music, meditation, and willingness to do these activities instead of staying tense. Take up a new hobby, spend more free time doing what you love, and spend time in nature if you’re at a loss for methods of stress control.
1. Discovery Health. 6 Home Remedies for TMJ.
2. The TMJ Association. TMJ Home Remedies.