Your lower jaw meets the upper skull in front of the ear. The joint that connects then is called the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). Noises in the jaw joints are extremely common and the disk that separates the jaws has been estimated to be displaced in approximately 40% of the population. Like any joint (hip, shoulder, wrist), the TMJ can be strained or injured. The injury can be the result of a specific trauma to the jaw area or can result from prolonged smaller trauma (microtrauma) from oral habits.
Jaw pain and difficulty with jaw movement are common signs of problems with the jaw joint or jaw muscles. These problems as a group are called temporomandibular disorders, or TMD, and they can often improve with some basic home care.
- Heat or ice can reduce joint or muscle pain and relax the muscles.
- Moist Heat: Moist heat can be especially helpful to sore muscles when applied to the painful area of the jaw for 15-20 minutes 3-4 times a day. A wet towel over a hot water bottle or a gel type heat pack can be used. A wet wash cloth heated in a microwave can also be used. Avoid burning the skin.
- Ice: Ice treatment can also be helpful for a sore jaw joint. An ice cube can be placed directly over the jaw joint in front of the ear. Move the ice over the jaw joint for 4-5 minutes for 3-4 times a day. Avoid frosting the skin.
- Soft Diet: A simple rule of thumb is to avoid chewing foods which aggravate the pain and/ or jaw clicking such as French bread, bagels, or steak. Cook foods of softer consistency and cut food into smaller bites. It is helpful to avoid biting off food with the front teeth. Place the smaller pieces of food directly in the back of the mouth and chew on both sides to avoid overloading one side.
- Chewing Gum: Do not chew gum. Chewing gum places a lot of pressure on the jaw joints for extended periods of time.
- Jaw Position: Normal rest position of the jaw is with the teeth slightly separated and the tip of the tongue in the roof of the mouth behind your front teeth. This is a relaxed position with no tense jaw muscles. The teeth should only touch when chewing and swallowing. Check your jaw position several times during the day to see if you clench your teeth.
- Jaw Habits: Check yourself and ask your family or friends if you have any habits which might make your jaw problem worse. These include teeth clenching or grinding, lip or cheek biting, fingernail biting, pen biting, thrusting your jaw forward, resting your jaw on your hand, and bracing your jaw even with your teeth apart.
- Dental Appointments: Avoid extended mouth opening at the dentist while you are having jaw pain. Let your dentist or hygienist know you have been having problems with your jaw.
- Caffeine: Avoid excessive use of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or colas, as these can contribute to jaw muscle tension and pain. Keep our caffeine use to 2 or less beverages per day.
- Sleeping Position: Attempt to not sleep on your stomach, as this can put pressure on the jaw.
- Medications: Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or Tylenol can be helpful in reducing your jaw pain. Take these medications as prescribed on the product instructions.