Approximately 15 percent of all Americans regularly experience symptoms of TMJ disorder (temporomandibular joint disorder). TMJ symptoms include headaches, tenderness around the jaw, and clicking or popping noises in the jaw. In addition to dental procedures, treatment includes TMJ exercises and self-care.
What are Temporomandibular Joints?
Located on the side of your head in front of each of your ears, the temporomandibular joints are the joints and muscles you use to open and close your mouth, chew, speak, and swallow. The system includes muscles, ligaments, and the jaw bone.
The round upper end of the lower jaw, which is the movable portion of the joint, is called the condyle, and the socket is called the articular fossa. A disk made of cartilage is found between the condyle and fossa, and it acts as a cushion that allows you to open and close your mouth easily.
Any problems that keep this system from working properly may lead to TMJ pain. Possible causes of TMJ disorder include arthritis, dislocation, injury, teeth grinding, and improper jaw alignment.
We make bite splints here at our Grosse Pointe dental office to treat TMJ as well as teeth clenching and grinding. Various self-care treatments can help as well.
TMJ Exercises and Self-Care Tips that Can Help Treat Jaw Pain
Several types of TMJ exercises and other forms of self-care can also help treat jaw pain by stretching the jaw, increasing jaw mobility, relaxing the jaw, and reducing jaw clicking.
Following are five common exercises used to treat TMJ disorder:
1. Relaxing Your Jaw
Curl your tongue to rest it on the roof of your mouth. Keep it there while you relax your lower jaw.
2. Jaw Drops
Place one finger on one of your TMJs and the index finger of your other hand on your chin. Curl your tongue and rest it on the roof of your mouth. Drop your jaw halfway and then close it again. There should be some resistance, but you should not feel pain. Do this six times several times a day.
Alternatively, drop your jaw all the way down instead of only halfway. Another alternative is to place index fingers on both of your TMJs instead of having one finger on your chin.
3. Strengthen Your Jaw Muscles
Place your thumb under your chin, and gently push up with your thumb as you drop your jaw. Close your jaw and repeat this several times. You will feel a gentle, relaxing resistance in your TMJ area.
4. Chin Squeezes
This TMJ exercise is intended to strengthen the muscles that you use to chew. Gently squeeze your chin with the index fingers and thumbs of both hands, and slowly open and close your mouth. Repeat this several times.
5. Side-to-Side Movements
Gently drop your jaw and move it from side to side. Doing so can help relieve pressure while strengthening the TMJ muscles.
Additional TMJ exercises and self-care tips include:
- Avoiding foods that are hard to chew
- Practicing good posture, which can help relax your facial muscles
- Using hot or cold packs on your face when you have TMJ pain
- Wearing a mouth guard while you sleep to minimize clenching or grinding
- Using anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and relax the jaw
- Not biting your fingernails
- Not biting your lower lip
- Relaxing your lower jaw and face whenever possible, keeping your upper and lower teeth apart
A TMJ headache can be treated by gently massaging your cheekbones and TMJ muscle area when you wake up in the morning.
As you are completing any of these TMJ exercises, remember not to force anything. If any of these exercises feel excessively unnatural or cause more pain, discontinue them. Make an appointment to see Dr. Holtzman in Grosse Pointe for TMJ exercise recommendations that are better suited for you.