TMJ is a complex disorder with a variety of potential causes and symptoms, but by far the most common symptom is discomfort. TMJ causes all the surrounding muscles to be constantly in tension, which can result in jaw pain, worn or chipped teeth, and even displacement of the cushioning disc, causing popping and clicking.
Dr. Paul Hahn and Dr. Adam Hahn are TMJ dentists — specialists with more than 40 years of combined experience — capable of providing expert TMJ treatment. But there are things you can do at home to help reduce your TMJ symptoms, too! For example, you can alleviate some of the symptoms yourself with a few adjustments to your diet.
Foods to Include in a TMJ Diet
Inflammation of the temporomandibular joint is a major contributing factor to TMJ-related pain and discomfort. For that reason, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can be a helpful step in relieving symptoms.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet can lead to unhealthily high levels of inflammation. To adjust your diet to be less inflammatory, you’ll want to add some of these foods to your regular meals:
- Green, leafy vegetables, like swiss chard, spinach, or kale
- Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, and cherries
- Celery (the benefits even extend to the seeds!)
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
- Olive oil
All of these foods are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which are proven to reduce the risk of inflammation. However, not all these foods are easy to include in a soft food diet if you’re trying to deal with acute jaw pain and muscle tension. Cook foods well when necessary, and process crunchy fruits and vegetables into smoothies to retain nutrients as appropriate.
And of course, in addition to anti-inflammatory foods, you’ll want to feature foods in your diet that promote joint health. Fatty fish and olive oil double as anti-inflammatory foods as well, and low fat milk, wine, and cherry juice can also be good for joints. It’s also important that your joints be fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C. You can get these from food sources, or add supplements to your regimen (or both!)
Foods to Avoid
Of course, just as important as what foods to eat are what foods not to eat.
To protect a temporomandibular joint that is already inflamed or damaged, it’s imperative that you avoid “high impact” foods. High impact foods are any foods that require your jaw to work harder than normal to chew. Crunchy foods like nuts and candy are high impact, as are extremely chewy foods, like steak or chewing gum.
And just like it’s important to include anti-inflammatory foods, you’ll want to skip the foods that can contribute to inflammation. Here are a few possible culprits:
- Trans fats can damage the cells that line your blood vessels, leading the inflammation.
- High sugar intake results in the release of cytokines, immune cells that cause inflammation.
- Animal fats have been shown to decrease your body’s natural anti-inflammatory responses.
- The majority of adults have some difficulty digesting lactose, which can lead to an inflammatory reaction.
- Some studies link MSG to TMJ and migraine flare-ups.
The dietary limits that TMJ can impose can also lead to other unpleasant side effects. Some people lose weight due to the difficulty of finding foods soft enough to chew, while others gain weight due to a soft but nutritionally empty diet of junk food.
If you think your diet might be influencing your TMJ symptoms, your best bet is simply to pay attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. Everyone’s body is different, so listen to what yours is telling you!
Ultimately, home care for TMJ can only take you so far. Knowing when to seek professional treatment is imperative to prevent further damage to your temporomandibular joint.