10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (2022)

If you suffer from pain or stiffness in the jaw, neck, or ears, you could have TMJ disorder. A TMJ pain treatment approach includes a number of methods, incorporating everything from at-home care to more interventional techniques, like physical therapy, medications, mouth guards, or even surgery.

What causes TMJ pain?

You may hear TMJ referred to in a number of ways. The letters “TMJ” themselves abbreviate “TemporoMandibular Joint” but have often been used to refer to disorders in this region of the jaw. Technically TMJ disorder or TMD is the more correct way to refer to this condition.

No matter what it’s called, TMJ/TMD refers to a disorder of the jaw muscles or joint. Your jaw connects to your skull with a ball and socket joint. Within this sits just a small disc of cartilage that cushions the load. This joint allows you talk freely, eat, and open your mouth. But, since it’s used so frequently, it’s vulnerable to constant wear and tear. This stress can lead to damage, swelling, and other abnormalities at the joint juncture.

This damage can cause TMJ symptoms, which include:

  • Pain and soreness in the jaw, head, neck, shoulders, or ears
  • Clicking, grinding, or popping sensations when you open and close your jaw
  • Locked jaw
  • Swelling in the jaw and face
  • A suddenly uncomfortable bite that feels “misaligned”
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Toothaches

Common causes of TMJ pain include:

  • Trauma to the mouth or jaw
  • Excessive teeth grinding, or bruxism
  • Improper bite
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Arthritis
  • Stress

TMJ is more often found in women, especially those between the ages of 18-44. Genetics play a small role in TMJ risk, as does accompanying pain conditions. For example, people with fibromyalgia and sleep apnea experience a greater incidence of TMJ pain.

10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (1)

What can I do for TMJ pain?

If you suffer from TMJ pain, you’ve likely lived for a long time with clicking while eating or an achy jaw when you wake up in the morning. Your pain may flare up during higher stress times, or it may become worse during winter. Or, for others, it might have come on suddenly.

No matter how TMJ affects you, there are ways to manage it. Often symptoms will gradually disappear on their own.

TMJ pain treatment ranges from at-home care to surgery for severe cases. For most patients, at-home care with some gentle stretching can significantly help relieve pain and reduce symptoms. If you’re suffering from moderate to severe pain, however, it’s important to talk to a TMJ specialist before attempting any of these treatments. They can diagnose the exact cause of your pain, and suggest personalized treatment options.

Diagnosing TMJ pain

Since they spend the most time in your mouth, typically a TMJ dentist will diagnose your condition. She’ll perform a physical exam, checking for pain, tenderness, and clicking.

A TMJ specialist can also use imaging scans to diagnose this condition. These may include X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. A TMJ arthroscopy can also be used. Mayo Clinic explains: “During TMJ arthroscopy, your doctor inserts a small thin tube (cannula) into the joint space, and a small camera (arthroscope) is then inserted to view the area and to help determine a diagnosis.”

(Video) 10 Best TMJ Exercises to Stop Pain in Your Jaw. (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)

Other specialists can also diagnose TMJ, such as your:

  • Primary care physician
  • Pain specialist
  • Oral surgeon
  • Orthodontist
  • Ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT)
  • Neurologist

TMJ pain treatment approaches

Once you’ve confirmed that you’re suffering from TMJ, there are a number of treatments you can use to relieve your symptoms. As the American Dental Association notes, it’s always best to start with simpler TMJ pain treatment approaches and progress from there. Many people will find effective pain relief from modifying a few at-home activities and practicing stress management.

TMJ pain treatments include:

  1. At-home care, including rest, cold/hot therapy, and posture correction
  2. Exercises and stretches
  3. Massage (solo or by a partner)
  4. Stress management techniques
  5. Dental devices, mouth guards, or oral splints
  6. Physical therapy
  7. Medications, including muscle relaxants
  8. TENS unit therapy
  9. Injections, including Botulinum or corticosteroid
  10. Surgery, either arthroscopic or open-joint, for severe cases

TMJ home treatment

For small flare-ups, start by icing your jaw if the injury is more acute and recent (say, from trauma or excessive grinding), or apply a warm, moist compress to release your muscles. You can also take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain.

Also look to your office set-up and posture. Dr. Mark Burhenne explains: “slouching can push your lower jaw forward, putting stress on the TMJ. This often happens with people who spend many hours at a desk.”

During a flare-up, you should also rest your jaw byby avoiding any strenuous chewing. Avoid hard, crunchy foods or really chewy food (like taffy). Cut your food into smaller pieces. WebMD recommends a number of soft foods you can try as well, like:

  • Yogurt
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soup
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Fish
  • Cookedfruits and vegetables
  • Beans and grains

With a restful period of warm, moist compresses and relaxed eating, you can help resolve a majority of your TMJ pain.

TMJ pain relief exercises and stretches

If you’re suffering from TMJ, simple exercises can also help you alleviate your pain. The following video goes over three TMJ pain relief exercises to start with. You can do these in just a few minutes at home. We also discuss more stretches you can do in our recent post on TMJ and ear pain.

These stretches help relieve tension, while TMJ exercises can strengthen the muscles of the jaw. Healthlinehereshares additional TMJ exercises.Your doctor or physical therapist can also recommend additional stretches to try for TMJ pain relief.

TMJ massage

If you’re already stretching and exercising the joint, massage is a natural fit. Many find relief from simple day-end TMJ massages, either done solo or by a partner.

For a self-massage, the TMJ Association recommends:

(Video) TMJ Pain Relief with Simple Exercises & Stretches - Ask Doctor Jo

“Several times a day, open your mouth, then rub the muscles by the ears near your temporomandibular joints. Place your forefingers on the sore areas, and swirl them around, pressing gently, until the muscle relaxes. Close your mouth and repeat the massage. With a clean forefinger, reach in your mouth until you can feel the sore muscles that are inside. Pressing firmly with your forefinger, massage one side, then the other, getting as close to the joints as you can. Finally, massage the muscles on the sides of your neck. Those muscles don’t directly control your jaw, but by massaging them you help to reduce tension that contributes to jaw pain.”

Stress management techniques

One of the most important parts of TMJ pain treatment is reducing your stress. We hold a lot of tension in our jaws, with continued stress leading to increased rates of damage.

Massage can go a long ways towards reducing stress, but there are other techniques you can practice on a daily basis. To help control stress, incorporate any of the following into your routine:

  • Biofeedback
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Using essential oils to refocus and relax
  • Acupuncture

Stress management doesn’t have to be complex either. Simply sitting and focusing on your breath for ten deep and full breaths a few times a day can help relieve tension around the jaw.

TMJ mouth guards and other dental devices

The go-to treatment for many TMJ sufferers is with dental devices, such as mouth guards and splints, which is a custom-fitted guard worn over the teeth. While this TMJ pain treatment can work in more moderate cases, for shorter periods of time, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research cautions:

“Stabilization splints are the most widely used treatments for TMJ disorders. Studies of their effectiveness in providing pain relief, however, have been inconclusive. If a stabilization splint is recommended, it should be used only for a short time and shouldnotcause permanent changes in the bite. If a splint causes or increases pain, or affects your bite, stop using it and see your health care provider.”

Similarly, if you’re also suffering from sleep apnea, wearing a mouth guard could make your night-time teeth grinding even worse.

Instead, many TMJ dentists are looking at ways to restore your mouth’s proper occlusion, or bite. A well-balanced bite puts less stress on your jaw, and can help you stop grinding your teeth at night. Because of this, some dentists recommend short-term guards or splints, bridges, braces to correct alignment, including Invisalign braces for adults.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist provides structured support and guidance with more severe cases of TMJ disorders. They’ll coach you through more advanced stretches and exercises to restore movement in the jaw and reduce pain.

Medications for TMJ

As eMedicineHealth explains, a number of medications can help with TMJ pain treatment (depending on the root cause of your symptoms).Under the supervision of your doctor, you may try:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications to reduce stress
  • Muscle relaxants

These should never be a first-line treatment, but they can help in more severe cases. Note that doctors who only prescribe pain medications aren’t working to address the root cause of the issue. These may have to be used in conjunction with other treatments, while undergoing physical therapy for example, but should never be your sole treatment approach.

10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (2)

(Video) Best TMJ Self-Treatment to STOP Pain Fast!

TMJ injections

Many are beginning to turn to injections for managing moderate to severe TMJ pain.Botulinum injectionsare increasingly used to treat migraine pain, and are being found to relieve the underlying muscle spasms that can cause TMJ pain. While there hasn’t been enough solid evidence yet on Botulinum for TMJ, more studies are in development.

Likewise, some TMJ specialists use corticosteroid injections into the joint itself to reduce inflammation and provide TMJ pain relief.

What do they do for TMJ surgery?

The final TMJ pain treatment approach is surgery. The majority of patients should not undergo surgery, as it’s often unwarranted and may not work for the majority of patients. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research itself explains that:

“Surgical treatments are controversial, often irreversible, and should be avoided where possible. There have been no long-term clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments for TMJ disorders. Nor are there standards to identify people who would most likely benefit from surgery. Failure to respond to conservative treatments, for example, does not automatically mean that surgery is necessary. If surgery is recommended, be sure to have the doctor explain to you, in words you can understand, the reason for the treatment, the risks involved, and other types of treatment that may be available.”

If you do need to undergo surgery, after all other treatments have failed, there are less-invasive options.The Mayo Clinic explains that in an arthroscopic procedure: “asmall thin tube (cannula) is placed into the joint space, an arthroscope is then inserted, and small surgical instruments are used for surgery.” A full open-joint surgery is used in as few cases as possible, but can allow a surgeon better ability to repair or replace a severely damaged joint.

What should I do to get TMJ pain relief?

Your TMJ pain treatment approach will ultimately depend on the severity of your pain, the length of your symptoms, and the underlying cause of your pain.

TMJ pain relief exercises and at-home strategies will often go a long way towards reducing pain. Other treatments like physical therapy, massage, or relaxation techniques are a welcome addition to any routine, and can be especially beneficial for patients.

Newer treatment approaches, like Botulinum for TMJ and TENs unit therapy, promise to help patients relieve pain without invasive surgery. Other options like Invisalign braces or mouth guards can help correct dental abnormalities leading to disorders in the jaw.

If you’re suffering from TMJ, your most important first step is talking to a specialist about your TMJ pain treatment options. They’ll be able to discuss them in-depth with you, and talk about strategies you can start now to get pain relief in the future. To find a pain specialist in your area, click the button below to get started.

Find Your Pain Doctor

(Video) Best TMJ Exercises for pain relief, and a stronger jaw!

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FAQs

Which doctor is best for TMJ treatment? ›

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS) are an example of professionals who specialize in treating diseases associated with the head and neck, which includes TMJ disorders. These surgeons focus specifically on the muscles, joints, and ligaments in the maxillofacial region.

What helps excruciating TMJ pain? ›

Ice helps reduce swelling and pain, while heat can increase blood flow and relax your jaw muscles. Apply a hot or cold compress to your jaw for 15 to 20 minutes at a time using a light layer between the compress and your skin.

Can a doctor do anything for TMJ? ›

Medical treatment

A doctor may recommend the following types of treatment: Medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or anti-inflammatory drugs. Oral splints or mouth guards. These oral devices can be soft or hard and usually slip over your teeth to help keep your jaw in place.

How do I realign my TMJ jaw? ›

Mandibular Stabilization Exercise

Step 1: Start with the jaw in a neutral, relaxed position. Step 2: Hold your thumb to the base of the jaw, just below the chin, and apply gentle pressure as you open your mouth. Step 3: Repeat the motion, moving your thumb to the left and right sides of the jaw respectively.

Is TMJ a dental or medical issue? ›

TMJ Disorders Can Be Both Medical and Dental Problems

Arthritis is another medical condition that can lead to a TMJ disorder. However, TMJ disorders can also be a dental problem by nature, especially when it is caused by an underlying problem with a person's teeth.

Can TMJ cause neurological problems? ›

As it courses posteriorly to the condylar head of the TMJ, compression, injury or irritation of the AT nerve can lead to significant neurologic and neuro-muscular disorders, including Tourette's syndrome,Torticolli, gait or balance disorders and Parkinson's disease.

What is the best muscle relaxer for TMJ? ›

An example of a muscle relaxant used for TMJ disorders is diazepam (eg, Valium). Tricyclic anti-depressants can help relieve pain caused by a TMJ disorder.

What can the ER do for TMJ pain? ›

If you go to an ER with TMD symptoms, they may be able to give you pain medication or a muscle relaxer to temporarily relieve your symptoms, but they will not be able to offer treatment for your underlying problem.

Can TMJ be extremely painful? ›

Anyone who's suffered from TMJ pain knows how debilitating it can be. While it may start with a little soreness at the temples or popping when you yawn, it can quickly progress into daily migraines, difficulty eating, and permanent damage to the teeth.

Does magnesium help with TMJ? ›

Calcium and magnesium.

May help the jaw muscle relax, although there are no scientific studies using them for TMJ problems. Magnesium and calcium interact with several medications, herbs, and supplements. They can also affect your heart and blood pressure, so be sure to tell your doctor before you take them.

Can a chiropractor fix TMJ? ›

If you're wondering, “does seeing a chiropractor help with TMJ?” then we have some good news for you. Not only does chiropractic treatment for TMJ help ease the pain when you visit a chiropractor but you can also do some soft tissue work at home to help loosen up your jaw muscles and reduce pain.

How do you stretch out TMJ? ›

Keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth, place one finger on your TMJ and another finger on your chin. Drop your lower jaw completely and back. For a variation of this exercise, place one finger on each TMJ as you completely drop your lower jaw and back. Do this exercise six times to complete one set.

What happens if TMJ goes untreated? ›

Over time, damage to the temporomandibular joint will take its toll, resulting in chronic pain and other symptoms like cracking, popping, and locking of the jaw. The pain may go beyond your joints, with discomfort and inflammation throughout your face and in your neck and shoulders.

Is TMJ covered by insurance? ›

Insurance companies generally do not include TMJ coverage unless mandated by states or at the request of company benefit coordinators because: There is much controversy about the causes and proper treatment of the problem.

What is a jaw specialist called? ›

This could be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or an ear, nose and throat specialist. Your specialist may suggest surgery if you have severe pain and your jaw joint is causing you significant problems. Only a small number of people have surgery.

What does severe TMJ feel like? ›

Aching pain in and around your ear. Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing. Aching facial pain. Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth.

Why don t insurance companies cover TMJ? ›

Many medical plans do not cover orthodontic treatment provided as an adjunct to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder surgery, because such treatment is considered dental in nature and, therefore, not covered under the medical benefit.

Does caffeine make TMJ worse? ›

Reduce caffeine intake

Caffeine can make your TMJ symptoms worse because caffeine makes your muscles move more than they would without caffeine. Caffeine also amps up your nervous system, making you feel even more anxious and stressed, and consequently, making you tense up your muscles including those in your jaw.

Will a brain MRI show TMJ? ›

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an excellent method for examining the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Will TMJ show up on MRI? ›

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) abnormalities cannot be reliably assessed by a clinical examination. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may depict joint abnormalities not seen with any other imaging method and thus is the best method to make a diagnostic assessment of the TMJ status.

Can I get disability for TMJ? ›

Patients seeking disability payments for their TMJ will have to prove that they are impacted in a way that they cannot perform their old job or any job that they could be trained to work. To qualify for disability benefits, the condition must prevent the person from working for a least one full year.

What makes TMJ pain worse? ›

Grinding your teeth is a surefire way to increase TMJ pain. Get to work on breaking this bad habit ASAP. Otherwise, you could cause significant damage to your teeth, in addition to worsening your jaw pain. For many patients, wearing a mouthguard at night is helpful in stopping the grinding.

Can Xanax help TMJ pain? ›

Anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan) help relieve the stress that may aggravate TMJ disorders. Always consult with a medical expert who can determine if anti-anxiety medication may be an appropriate treatment to meet your needs.

What is better for TMJ heat or ice? ›

If you find that you experience swelling and inflammation, cold temperatures will be a more effective treatment. However, if your jaw pain stems from muscle pain or stiffness, heat will be a better option.

When should I go to hospital for TMJ? ›

Additionally, you should always go to the emergency room if your jaw remains locked in an open or closed position. The emergency room doctor can manually place the jaw back into position. This is not something to attempt at home. If the jaw is closed and in a locked position, sedation is usually necessary.

When should you go to the hospital for jaw pain? ›

In most cases, jaw pain does not require immediate medical attention. However, it is good to know that if the pain persists, is too much to handle, or spreads to other areas of the body, that you can seek counsel from a professional. The cause may be something more urgent than a cavity or tooth grinding.

Can TMJ affect your vision? ›

Blurred vision – Much in the same way that TMD can cause hearing problems, the disorder can also result in vision issues. Inflamed nerves behind the eyes can lead to blurred vision, eye twitches, and light sensitivity.

Does TMJ show up on xray? ›

Conventional radiographs have a limited role in evaluation of the TMJ. They can be used to evaluate only the bony elements of the TMJ. They do not give useful information when it comes to the non-bony elements such as cartilage or adjacent soft tissues.

Is jaw surgery for TMJ worth it? ›

Severe pain caused by damaged joints may require more invasive treatments, such as corticosteroid injections into the TMJ. Surgery may be considered as a last resort. There isn't any scientific evidence that surgical interventions for TMJ disorders are safe and effective.

Can heat make TMJ worse? ›

The cold constricts blood vessels and decreases circulation to the inflamed jaw area. Using a cold compress or ice pack on a strained jaw muscle can also numb pain in the area. On the other hand, heat can make jaw inflammation significantly worse.

What doctor specializes in jaw issues? ›

Because TMJ symptoms often develop in the head and neck, otolaryngologists are appropriately qualified to diagnose TMJ problems. Proper diagnosis of TMJ begins with a detailed history and physical, including careful assessment of the teeth occlusion and function of the jaw joints and muscles.

Can a chiropractor fix TMJ? ›

If you're wondering, “does seeing a chiropractor help with TMJ?” then we have some good news for you. Not only does chiropractic treatment for TMJ help ease the pain when you visit a chiropractor but you can also do some soft tissue work at home to help loosen up your jaw muscles and reduce pain.

What is the difference between TMJ and TMD? ›

Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are a group of more than 30 conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement. “TMDs” refers to the disorders, and “TMJ” refers only to the temporomandibular joint itself. People have two TMJs; one on each side of the jaw.

How long does TMJ take to heal? ›

Recovery Time

The good news is that most TMJ symptoms will clear up in no more than three weeks typically. However, certain TMJ conditions, especially those brought about by arthritis or bruxism, can last months or years, depending on the severity of the underlying condition.

What is the best muscle relaxer for TMJ? ›

An example of a muscle relaxant used for TMJ disorders is diazepam (eg, Valium). Tricyclic anti-depressants can help relieve pain caused by a TMJ disorder.

What do oral surgeons do for TMJ? ›

During the surgery, an oral surgeon will make an incision into the skin. Once the jaw joint is exposed, the surgeon will either replace, repair, or reposition the articular disc of the joint. The oral surgeon may see fit to remove the articular disc from the joint should the disc be damaged beyond repair.

When is surgery needed for TMJ? ›

Your doctor may recommend TMJ surgery if: You feel consistent, intense pain or tenderness when you open or close your mouth. You can't open or close your mouth all the way. You have trouble eating or drinking because of jaw pain or immobility.

Is Magnesium Good for TMJ? ›

Calcium and magnesium.

May help the jaw muscle relax, although there are no scientific studies using them for TMJ problems. Magnesium and calcium interact with several medications, herbs, and supplements. They can also affect your heart and blood pressure, so be sure to tell your doctor before you take them.

Where do you massage your jaw for TMJ? ›

Place 2 to 3 fingers on the muscles below your cheek bones. If you clench your teeth, you should feel the muscles tighten under those fingers. Press into the muscles and hold that pressure for 6 to 10 seconds. Keep your jaw relaxed and repeat in another tender or tight area of your cheek.

Should I go to a dentist or chiropractor for TMJ? ›

Both dentists and chiropractors offer proven treatments for TMJ, but working separately, they each face challenges that can lead to less effective treatment for you. When a chiropractor attempts to adjust the spine, the jaw can pull it out of alignment again as long as the jaw is not properly balanced.

Will a brain MRI show TMJ? ›

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an excellent method for examining the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

What is often mistaken for TMJ? ›

Chronic cluster, migraine, or tension headaches may be mistaken for TMJ disorder, especially since TMJ disorder itself can cause such headaches. Chronic sinus pain and sinus infections can also produce pain around the temples that can feel like TMJ disorder.

How do you describe TMJ pain? ›

Aching pain in and around your ear. Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing. Aching facial pain. Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth.

Does TMJ show up on xray? ›

Conventional radiographs have a limited role in evaluation of the TMJ. They can be used to evaluate only the bony elements of the TMJ. They do not give useful information when it comes to the non-bony elements such as cartilage or adjacent soft tissues.

What makes TMJ pain worse? ›

Grinding your teeth is a surefire way to increase TMJ pain. Get to work on breaking this bad habit ASAP. Otherwise, you could cause significant damage to your teeth, in addition to worsening your jaw pain. For many patients, wearing a mouthguard at night is helpful in stopping the grinding.

Can a night guard make TMJ worse? ›

The unevenness of tooth contact with the night guard can lead to even more clenching, grinding and TMJ problems.

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