Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) are common, affecting about 12% of adults in the US at any given time. However, most cases of TMJ are temporary and don’t need treatment. So how do you know when it’s time for you to seek treatment for your TMJ?
In general, you should see a dentist about TMJ when:
- Symptoms worsen under home care
- Symptoms interfere with daily activities
- The condition persists for more than 7 days or recurs
- You experience traumatic damage to teeth or jaw
In these cases, a dentist can help you get relief from what might be a serious case of TMJ.
How to Care for TMJ at Home
If you experience symptoms of TMJ, it’s not a bad idea to attempt to care for them at home first. Effective strategies for home care of TMJ include:
- Reducing jaw strain
- Stress reduction
- Hot and cold packs
- Over-the-counter pain medication
For many people, these home care strategies can control or resolve TMJ. If any of these techniques make your TMJ worse, stop the therapy and contact a dentist for treatment.
Reducing Jaw Strain
TMJ often results from excessive strain on the jaw joint. Reducing this strain can reduce or resolve your TMJ symptoms.
A soft diet can help take the strain off your jaw joints. You don’t need to puree your food, but you should avoid foods that require a lot of chewing like steak, popcorn, and crunchy vegetables. Also, avoid foods that make you open your mouth very wide.
Try to control habits that stress your jaw, like chewing on things other than food (pens, fingernails, ice, chewing gum, etc.). Stifle wide yawns if you can.
When possible, avoid exercise or physical activity that puts strain on your jaw.
Try to limit talking if it hurts. Rely on texts or email to communicate at work. When you have to talk, speak quietly.
These days, everyone is highly stressed. Practicing stress management techniques is good for your general health as well as helping with TMJ.
The stress-TMJ connection is complex. Many people clench their teeth when stressed, leading to jaw strain. Other people have coping mechanisms that are hard on the jaw joint, like chewing on non-food objects, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and more.
Stress management is a major challenge. If you can’t get your stress under control, you might need to seek professional help.
Hot and Cold Packs
Effective use of hot and cold packs can help control your TMJ pain and other symptoms. Hot packs work well for soothing tense muscles. This can reduce current pain and prevent future pain as well.
Cold packs numb pain and help control inflammation (swelling), a major source of ongoing pain and dysfunction. If you’re not sure about the source of your pain, cold packs are best, because hot packs can make inflammation worse.
OTC Pain Relievers
You can use OTC pain relievers to help control TMJ pain, provided your doctor hasn’t told you otherwise. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve) work best because they control swelling as well as pain.
Follow the label guidelines to avoid the negative side effects of these medications. Remember: OTC pain relievers are only safe when used as directed.
Are Your Symptoms Interfering with Daily Activities?
You should seek professional care for your TMJ if your symptoms interfere with daily activities. Usually, TMJ interference comes in the form of:
- Excessive pain
- Limited jaw motion
- Locked jaw
If your TMJ causes such excessive pain that you can’t go about your daily life, it’s time to seek treatment. This includes when pain doesn’t respond to recommended doses of OTC pain relievers. Don’t take more than the dose on the label without talking to your doctor first.
Jaw motion might be limited because you can’t physically move your jaw or because of the pain jaw movement causes. If your jaw locks up, seek immediate help. Don’t try to force your jaw open or closed, as this can cause permanent traumatic damage. Instead, get a dentist or assistant to help release your locked jaw safely.
Most transient cases of TMJ pass relatively quickly under proper home care. If you do home care for more than seven days and still experience TMJ symptoms, it’s time to see a dentist. This is approximate. If symptoms are reducing but not resolved by the seventh day, you might wait another day or two.
It’s also important to contact a dentist if symptoms go away and recur regularly. If TMJ only recurs once every few years, it might not be necessary to get treatment. However, if it recurs every few months or if the intervals between symptoms are getting shorter, it’s time to contact a neuromuscular dentist.
Traumatic Damage from TMJ
TMJ can be a progressive condition and it’s important to get care early to keep the condition from worsening. You should seek professional care if your TMJ is causing you to grind, chip, or crack your teeth. If sudden or irregular jaw movement makes your jaw feel like it isn’t fitting together right, it’s a good idea to seek care.
You should also seek professional care if your jaw is making a grinding sound when chewing or talking.
TMJ Treatment in Wilmington, DE
If you are looking for TMJ care in Wilmington, DE, Dr. Michael T. Rosen can help. Dr. Rosen trained in treating TMJ with neuromuscular dentistry at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dentistry, where he achieved the esteemed rank of LVI Fellow.
Please call (302) 994-0979 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rosen in Wilmington, DE.