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Reducing TMJ Pain and Jaw Discomfort

Experimentation, Jaw Pain, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, TMJ

Although 10 million Americans suffer from jaw pain at any moment, the exact cause and proper treatment course for jaw pain varies by physician/provider. Even diagnoses vary, with jaw pain being termed TMJ (temporomandibular joint), TMJ Syndrome, and TMD (temporomandibular disorder), among many others. Patients with debilitating pain often travel between dentists, general practitioners, physical therapists, counselors, neurologists, pain management specialists, and otolaryngologists seeking relief from the aching, grinding pain.

A few small steps at home, however, can help relieve jaw pain and TMJ discomfort. The first, most obvious step is to eliminate crunchy and chewy food. The temperature of the food we consume can also be important. Eating warm foods such as oatmeal, grits, and tea in the morning can help relax the muscles surrounding the joint. Also, avoiding large bites of even the softest foods helps reduce pain by preventing you from opening your mouth too wide.

Next, examine the way that you sleep. Some physicians/dentists recommend that jaw pain patients sleep on their backs. If you’re accustomed to sleeping in one position, try sleeping a different way and be patient! It may take time and a few sleepless nights adjust to a new position.

The most important part of managing jaw pain on your own is experimentation. Spend a few minutes each morning sitting quietly and focusing on the sensations throughout your body. Practicing paying attention to the signals your jaw is sending you and use this awareness throughout the day. Are there certain activities which cause you more jaw pain than others? Work on eliminating or changing these behaviors first!

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If you visit a physician or dentist, s/he should provide a list of foods, activities, and behaviors to avoid. Remember that there may be other foods which cause more pain as well as items on the list which cause you no pain at all. Again, experimentation is crucial. Try chewing the forbidden items – is there pain or tension afterward? Pay attention to other movements you make with your mouth and jaw as well. For example, some jaw pain sufferers find that drinking through a straw, sucking on hard candy, and whistling increase pain levels.

Finally, decide on some priorities. What foods can you give up for good? What foods will you allow yourself to have as occasional treats? Avoiding all crunchy and chewy foods forever probably isn’t a realistic goal, so where will you draw the line? Also, allowing yourself a few, periodic indulgences (that your report to your jaw pain professional) can help lessen the stress of TMJ pain.

Jaw pain can be an elusive problem to control. What works one day seems moot the next. What one medical professional tells you, another will deny. Through your own self-awareness and experimentation, however, you can take control of TMJ syndrome. Learn how it affects you and, more importantly, how your behaviors and choices change your pain levels. In time, you will not only have greater control over your jaw pain, but you’ll feel more in charge of your medical care as well.