You're trying to chew your food, but you feel a constant pressure around your jaw and ears.
There are many causes of jaw pain, including tooth decay and nighttime grinding, but issues that are exclusive to the jaw muscles are also fairly common. These are known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) and can affect as many as 10 million people in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Although the exact cause is often unknown, there are ways to curb the sensation. In many cases, you can find temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain relief with simple, conservative treatments.
Go the Soft Route
One way to appease TMJ pain is to use your jaw muscles as little as possible. Sticking to a soft diet for a few days is an excellent way to limit this movement and ultimately reduce tension in the jaw area. A soft diet doesn't have to be a boring diet; you aren't limited to yogurt or shakes. Try oatmeal and scrambled eggs for breakfast, fish or chicken salad for lunch and macaroni and cheese for dinner. You can also take a creative approach to mashed potatoes by filling it out with other vegetables, such as mashed carrots, finely chopped, steamed broccoli or caramelized onions. Although there are plenty of foods you can enjoy on your soft diet, you do want to make sure you steer clear of harder meats, crunchy snacks such as popcorn and chips and chewy sweets such as gum, caramel and jelly beans.
Give the Jaw a Break
Sticking to soft foods isn't the only way to give your jaw a rest and help reduce the pain. Consider avoiding any movements that require you to open your jaw super wide. Be careful when brushing your teeth, as well. Even though Colgate Total® toothpaste should be used as far back as your second or third molars, try to limit the extent you open your mouth so that your jaw isn't working harder than it needs to. If you have to yawn, the TMJ Association recommends placing your fist below your jaw to keep your jaw from locking.
Learning how to relax can help with TMJ pain relief, too. If you're frequently stressed and it makes your TMJ discomfort worse, embrace breathing techniques to loosen up the jaw or practice yoga to relax your entire body. Another way to help your jaw feel better is to open your mouth slightly, placing your tongue just behind your top teeth. This relaxed facial position keeps the jaw from locking or tensing up.
Get Some Exercise
Trying exercises for pain relief might seem counter-intuitive, but exercising and stretching the jaw has several benefits for those suffering from TMD. A study published in July 2014 in the Journal of Dental Research found that patients who occasionally stretched the muscles in their jaws saw as much relief as patients who were given splints to wear. General exercise can also provide calming effects, as it can help your body cope with pain and stress, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Go to a Professional
It's generally accepted that a conservative approach to TMJ pain relief is best, at least at the beginning. But if relaxing, exercising and sticking with soft foods doesn't eliminate the problem, you may want to see a dentist or other medical professional for a more in-depth treatment. These treatments can range from a course of muscle exercises to muscle relaxants or pain relievers, to corticosteroid injections or to a custom-fit night guard to provide muscle relief while sleeping.
The pain from a TMJ disorder might be pretty unpleasant at times. In the majority of cases, however, minor habit changes and at-home care is enough to help reduce the pain, allowing you to go about your life as normal.