Temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJ) is the name for a group of issues which cause pain in the jaw and facial muscles that control the jaw. While the specific cause of TMJ is yet unknown, treatments and aids for the pains associated with TMJ are plentiful.

In many cases, jaw problems will resolve themselves within a few weeks to months. In order to help with the process of getting back to normal, and to avoid future issues with TMJ, the following aspects of treatment can be looked at.

To avoid pain associated with TMJ, it is best to avoid clenching or stress to the jaw, excessive chewing of gum, and holding a telephone between the ear and the shoulder – which may irritate jaw and neck muscles. If you are currently experiencing TMJ pain or dysfunction, the following therapies may provide some relief:

Eating a Soft Diet. Soft, easy-to-eat foods allow the jaw to rest while recovering from TMJ pain. Hard, crunchy, and chewy foods can cause further pain to those already experiencing TMJ pain. It is best to avoid stretching the jaw open to accommodate larger food items.

Ice & Heat. An ice pack will help to decrease inflammation and help to numb the pain associated with TMJ. Make sure not to place ice directly on the skin, and do not use ice for more than 10 minutes. Using a heat pack or hot water bottle can also provide relief from TMJ by improving jaw function and reducing the pain. Be careful not to burn your skin when using hot packs.

Pain Medications. Pain medications such as short term use of over the counter analgesics may provide temporary relief from jaw pain. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe you with a stronger medication if the symptoms cannot be helped by an over the counter product.

Jaw Exercises. Both strengthening and stretching exercises should be considered to help with TMJ pain. Strengthening exercises have been shown to help avoid future instances of TMJ once recovered, and stretching exercises are used to help with range of motion and pain. Your health care provider will be able to walk you through a series of exercises that will be appropriate for your case of TMJ.

Relaxation Techniques. TMJ can be caused by stress, so finding a great routine for relaxation can prove to be very helpful. Deep, slow breathing can help with pain and stress, and some people have found that yoga or massage therapy helps with their TMJ. It is important to also make a concentrated effort to relax the facial muscles, lips, and to keep the teeth apart.

While TMJ typically resolves on its own after a number of weeks, it’s important to solve the reason behind the issue in the first place. If your TMJ pain is reoccurring, or getting worse with time, it may be time to seek professional advice.