10 Best TMJ Treatments
When something is functioning correctly, we often don’t give it much thought. We trust that our coffee maker will dutifully brew our morning coffee, that our car will start with a simple turn of the key, and that the traffic lights will run through their cycles without a hitch. In the same way, we trust our TMJ and the surrounding muscles to do their jobs without giving them much thought—until they aren’t functioning correctly. Then we become all too aware of just how much we rely on them!
When you’re dealing with TMJ pain, it’s normal to want to find the best treatment available so that you can reclaim a pain-free life. Since the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a complex joint and there’s a wide range of potential causes for TMD (temporomandibular disorders), everyone’s case is a little different. Your TMJ treatment might look different than someone else’s, and there are multiple treatment options you can try. Some of these you can do right at home, while others require treatment from a dentist. To help you learn about your options and which you might want to try, here’s a list of the 10 best TMJ treatments.
Stress is a major cause of TMD because it leads to muscle tension and habits like clenching or grinding your teeth. If you’re stressed, you might be clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep without even realizing it. Thankfully, cutting down on your stress can relieve these symptoms and improve your TMJ pain. There are several ways you can do this, such as making an effort not to take on too many responsibilities, practicing journaling or mindfulness techniques, and setting aside time every day to do something you find relaxing.
Even spending just 30 minutes to an hour every day reading, doing art, or connecting with friends and loved ones can work wonders for your stress levels. Speaking to a therapist can also be incredibly helpful, as they can discuss sources of your stress and give you more personalized tips. Reducing the amount of stress you’re under can relieve your TMJ pain specifically, but it’s also better for your overall health!
Muscle tension in your jaw overworks the muscles surrounding the joint and contributes to jaw pain. Other muscles begin to try and pick up the slack, which can also lead to pain in your neck, shoulders, and back. As a result, relieving this tension can also help relieve your pain. Practicing relaxation techniques is a great way to build the habit of being more conscious about the tension you’re holding in your jaw as well as the rest of your body and learning to relax this tension. These exercises are also a good opportunity to slow down, calming and rejuvenating your mind and body.
Stretching and strengthening your jaw muscles with jaw exercises can make a huge difference in your pain levels. There are plenty of easily accessible resources with exercises specifically designed to help relieve TMJ pain, so it’s easy to get started with these exercises at home! It’s important to ease into these exercises gradually, as this gives your jaw time to adjust and gain strength, which helps you avoid overworking it. Your jaw needs time to strengthen and experience the full benefits of the exercises, so don’t get discouraged! Keep up with the exercises every day and you should start to see an improvement in your symptoms—they might even disappear entirely.
If you’re fighting to control pain from tension or muscle spasms in your jaw, muscle relaxants can be a good method of bringing relief. They’re most often used to help minimize your pain while you get the hang of relaxation techniques, adjust to jaw exercises, or try other treatment options. Generally, muscle relaxants aren’t an ideal long-term treatment, but they’re a great aid for a few days or weeks while you find a treatment that works for you.
Overworking or overusing your jaw can cause TMJ pain, so you may need to adjust a few of your habits to avoid aggravating it—especially if you’re already in a flare-up. It’s wise to avoid chewy, sticky, or crunchy foods while you’re in a flare-up, as this makes your jaw work harder and can worsen your pain levels. Ideally, you won’t have to be as careful once you’ve hit on a more permanent solution for your TMJ pain, but it’s still a good rule of thumb to give your jaw periods of rest between more extensive use from eating or talking. This also means you should try to permanently cut back on habits like chewing gum constantly or nervously gnawing on your fingernails.
Inflammation in your jaw can cause TMJ symptoms, from pain in your jaw to migraines, earaches, and temporary hearing loss. Taking anti-inflammatory medications—either over-the-counter or prescription—can help relieve these symptoms and minimize pain while you start trying TMD remedies that aim to reduce or eliminate your symptoms more long term.
A TMJ splint is an oral device that fits over your teeth. These devices can come in several different forms, but wearing a TMJ splint during the day can be a helpful TMJ treatment for some people. This is because it prevents you from clenching or grinding your teeth or can be used to move your jaw into a more ideal position. This protects your jaw from the added pressure and stress of constant force being applied to it, allowing its muscles and ligaments to relax. By preventing you from clenching or grinding your teeth, TMJ splints also protect your teeth from the damage that these habits can eventually lead to, including chipped, cracked, broken, or worn teeth.
Nightguards work using a similar concept to TMJ splints but look a lot like mouthguards. Like their name would suggest, you wear nightguards when you go to sleep. They hold your jaw in an ideal relaxed position while you sleep, opening up your airway and preventing you from clenching or grinding your teeth. Your nightguard is designed specifically for you with comfort in mind, making them comfortable to sleep in and ensuring that the oral appliance holds your jaw in a position that feels natural for you. In some cases, simply wearing a nightguard can help TMJ symptoms totally subside.
While you’ve likely heard of Botox, you might not have realized that it can be used to treat TMD. Botox works by preventing nerves from sending signals telling the muscles to fire, forcing muscles to relax. When it’s injected into targeted areas of your jaw, Botox can relieve symptoms like jaw tension, headaches, and lockjaw. It’s often not a go-to treatment method, but if you’re having severe pain and that other treatments have been unable to resolve, Botox may provide a solution. That said, Botox isn’t a permanent solution. It wears off eventually, so your TMJ dentist will either need to readminister it or you’ll need to look into different long-term solutions.
In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to resolve an underlying problem with the temporomandibular joint itself that is causing your pain. This isn’t a reason to worry, though! If your dentist is Dr. Rob, you can rest assured that he will try more conservative treatments first, only turning to surgery if your symptoms don’t respond to other treatments. Some surgical options are minimally invasive, such as arthrocentesis, which simply involves inserting small needles into the TMJ to irrigate it. This removes debris and byproducts of inflammation from the joint to improve your symptoms. Whether he recommends a minimally invasive or a more involved surgery, Dr. Rob will always take the time to sit down to answer all of your questions and discuss the benefits and risks with you before you make a decision.
Your TMJ is a complex joint, but that doesn’t mean that treating it is always complex! Many TMD remedies can be done right at home, and even treatments carried out by Dr. Rob are usually simple. It might take commitment to a new routine or a little trial and error to find the best treatment for you, but with a bit of work and experimentation, you can stop thinking about your TMJ every day—and just trust it to work! If you’d like to learn more about advanced family dentistry in Wasilla and how it could relieve your symptoms, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Rob at any time!