The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may not be mentioned in normal conversation, but you wouldn't be able to open or close your mouth without it. The TMJ is one of the most unique joints in your body, allowing for the backward, forward and side-to-side movement of your jaw. When something goes wrong with the TMJ, you can develop a TMJ disorder, which is often to blame for the most common pain in your jaw or near the ears.
Although the discomfort can go away on its own, many people have found that TMJ exercises help ease the irritation. Here are some of them.
1. Strengthening Exercises
When actively experiencing pain and discomfort from a TMJ problem, exercising the area may not be particularly helpful. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, pain that has subsided can open the door for a number of strengthening TMJ exercises that keep it from returning. These exercises involve opening and closing your mouth while placing some amount of resistance on your chin.
- To perform a resisted opening exercise, put one of your thumbs under your chin and gently push downward against it. As you push your thumb, slowly open your mouth, keeping it open for a few seconds before slowly closing it.
- To perform a resisted closing exercise, keep your thumb under your chin and place your index finger from the same hand on the ridge between your chin and lower lip. Push gently as you close your mouth.
2. Stretching Exercises
Gently stretching the jaw and joint area can also help keep TMJ pain from returning. One way to stretch the jaw involves pressing the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth, then slowly opening your mouth as much as you can without it becoming painful. If you feel pain, stop performing the exercise; it may just need more time before you can engage it.
Similar stretching exercises focus on moving the jaw on its own as much as possible without causing yourself discomfort. To do these exercises successfully, try this:
- Start with your mouth closed and your jaw as relaxed as possible. With your teeth slightly apart, slowly open your mouth as wide as you can while looking up with your eyes. Hold your mouth open for a few seconds, then slowly close it.
- Once your mouth is closed again, move your jaw to the left side while looking to your right with your eyes (don't turn your neck or head). Hold this position for a few seconds, the move back to the center. Repeat the stretch, moving your jaw to the right side while looking to your left.
3. Relaxation Exercises
Exercises that help you relax can also help to relieve TMJ pain – especially if it's stress-related. Mayo Clinic recommends breathing exercises to ease tension in the jaw muscles. If you are feeling tense, try inhaling for a count of five or 10, then slowly exhaling. Although not a form of exercise, learning how to reduce the amount of stress in your life can go a long way toward easing any TMJ-related discomfort that develops as a result.
Caring for Your Mouth
Along with strengthening and stretching exercises, how you care for your mouth can influence your TMJ pain relief efforts, too. When you brush or floss, be careful not to open the mouth too wide, even when reaching the second and third molars. Using a toothpaste such as Colgate® Enamel Health™ Sensitivity Relief can help restore any enamel that's been weakened due to grinding and clenching from TMJ pain.
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying any TMJ exercises is that they shouldn't hurt. Pain when stretching or opening your mouth is your cue to speak with the dentist or doctor. He or she can examine your mouth and recommend a different course of treatment, if needed.