Many people develop significant, but transient, jaw pain from time to time. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder, also called TMD), but it can develop into TMJ if you’re not careful. Here are some things you can try to help keep a sore jaw from progressing into TMJ.
Many people clench their jaw when stressed, and this can make muscle soreness worse–and put stress on your jaw joint. Reducing stress is one way to help head off TMJ.
Start by trying to get and maintain perspective on what things are worth being stressed about and what you should just let go.
Relaxation techniques can also help defuse your stress. Meditation, biofeedback, and other relaxation techniques can significantly reduce your stress level.
If your stress levels continue to escalate, try talking to a doctor or psychiatrist about your stress levels.
Quit Habits That Contribute to Jaw Pain
Bad habits can significantly increase your risk of TMJ. Gum chewing, for example, significantly increases the stress and wear on your jaw joints. And if you’re nervously or absentmindedly chewing on things like pens or pencils, that can also put stress on your jaw joints and increase your TMJ risk.
If you’re using your teeth to open bottles, tear open packages, or as a replacement for scissors, it’s best to stop. Your teeth were not designed for these tasks, and they can damage your teeth as well as your jaw joints.
Smoking and other tobacco use can increase TMJ risk, although we’re not sure of the mechanism.
Stretches, Massage, and Other Home Care
If you’re not properly exercising your jaw muscles regularly, you might find that you’re more likely to develop jaw pain when you do give your jaw a workout. Try eating a varied diet that includes small amounts of challenging foods like fresh fruits, raw vegetables, and unprocessed meats. Avoid these when your jaw is sore, but try to incorporate them in small quantities when your jaw feels good.
Try home care techniques like masseter muscle massage, applying heat, and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. As long as you follow guidelines, these aren’t harmful, and they can make a difference in preventing TMJ.
Is It TMJ?
But you have to be prepared for the possibility that you have actually developed TMJ already, and should consider professional care. Warning signs that your jaw problem is serious include these symptoms in addition to your jaw pain:
- Jaw sounds like popping, clicking, or grinding
- Irregular jaw motions
- Chipped or broken teeth
- Ear pain, fullness, or ringing
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Headaches or migraines
- Neck pain or back pain
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers
If you have these symptoms and they either persist for a week or recur regularly, you should seek professional care.