We use our mouths for many activities talking, eating, yawning, and laughing. When we are not engaged in these, we need to allow our jaw muscles and joints to relax. Many people have developed habits that do not permit their jaw muscles or joints (TMJ- temporomandibular joint) to relax sufficiently. The steps listed below will help you learn how to relax these muscles and joints, and reduce the jaw pain you are experiencing.
USE HOT OR COLD PACKS. Apply hot or cold pack, or combination of both to the painful area(s). Most people prefer heat, but if that increases your pain, use either the combination of both or cold alone. Apply 2-4 times per day or as needed, and follow with gentle massage of jaw muscles each time.
a. Heat only: Moist heat, heating pad preferred. Apply heat pack (20 minutes)
b. Cold only: Frozen gel pack, frozen bag of peas wrapped in towel. Apply cold pack (10 minutes)
c. Combination: Alternate applying heat pack (10 minutes), and cold pack (10 minutes)
- 2EXERCISE YOUR JAW. Open your mouth as wide as possible without pain or strain, and hold it open for 5 seconds, then close halfway and rest for 5 seconds; repeat 15 times, 3-4 times daily. If jaw pain is severe, you should seek help from physiotherapist with expertise in treating TMJ.
- 3REST YOUR JAW MUSCLES. Keep your teeth apart and practice good posture. When you are not chewing your teeth should never touch (except for occasionally when you swallow) closely monitor your jaw positions for signs of clenching. Try placing your tongue lightly on top of your mouth behind your upper front teeth, allowing the teeth to come apart and relaxing the jaw muscles. Good head, neck, and back posture helps you maintain good jaw posture. Try to hold your head up straight, and use a small pillow or rolled towel to support your lower back. Avoid habit such as resting your jaw on your hand, or cradling the telephone against your shoulder.
- 4WATCH YOUR HABITS. Avoid oral habits that put strain on the jaw muscles or joints. For example, clenching or grinding the teeth (bruxism), touching or resting the teeth together, biting your cheeks, biting your nails, pens/pencils, pushing the tongue against the teeth, and tensing the jaw.
- 5DON’T OPEN WIDE. Until the pain has been reduced, avoid activities that involve opening the jaw wide, such as yawning, yelling and prolonged dental treatments. Avoid putting large sizes of food in your mouth like a Big Mac from Mcdonalds, cut it up into small pieces to avoid strain.
- 6SLEEP SMART. Avoid sleeping habits that strain your jaw muscles or joints. Don’t sleep on your stomach, and if you sleep on your side, keep your neck and jaw aligned.
- 7EAT SOFT FOODS. Confine your diet to soft foods such as canned fruit, soups, eggs, mashed potatoes, cheese, milkshakes and yogurt. Do NOT chew gum, eat hard foods (such as raw carrots), or chewy foods (such as caramels, steak or bagels). Cut other food into small pieces and chew on both sides of your mouth, reducing the strain on one side.
- 8AVOID CAFFEINE. Caffeine stimulates your muscles to contract and, therefore, become tenser. Caffeine or caffeine-like drugs are in coffee, tea, most sodas, and chocolate. Decaffeinated coffee also has some caffeine.
- 9USE MEDICATION. Use anti-inflammatory and pain reducing medications like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Aspirin (without caffeine) to reduce joint and muscle pain. Avoid medications with caffeine.
- 10DO BREATHING EXERCISES. Breathe in deeply from your abdomen through your nose, holding for 2-3 seconds, exhale through your mouth, and let your shoulders and jaw sag. Rest for 2-3 seconds, and take 6-8 deep, slow breaths.
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