Jaw Pain "The Marriage Is Over!"
By Andrew M. Sklar, DDS
Andrew M. Sklar, DDS, PC
Jaw Pain "The Marriage Is Over!"
You may have thought you'd be “married” to your jaw pain forever. Not so. You'll be glad to know some promising new research and therapies may have you living happily ever after, after all.
For the past thirty years or so dental and medical education has taught that TMJ pain, now referred to as TMJD (temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder), developed due to malocclusion, “a bad bite”, or poor tooth alignment. Physicians have been taught to refer patients with “jaw pain” to a dentist for treatment.
The newest research is showing that TMJD is much more than just a problem with the jaw joints or a “bad bite”. Scientists now believe TMJD includes a group of conditions that arise from an interrelated web of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors. According to William Maixner, PhD, DDS, at the University of North Carolina's Oral and Facial Pain Program, “We know that people with TMJD are more likely to have other chronic sensory disorders such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and tension headaches, and chronic fatigue.”
When it comes to treating TMJD, the dentist can often help. But you can also do a lot to help yourself. Practicing some of these habits can help prevent and relieve jaw pain.
Monitor symptoms. Several times a day (at least first thing in the morning and last thing at night) rate your pain on a zero to ten scale. Look for patterns over time. What kinds of activities are you doing when the pain is the worst?
Eat softer foods. Avoid French bread or bagels, and chewy foods like steak or candy. Steam your veggies, and cut fruits in small pieces.
Break bad oral habits. Avoid straining your jaw muscles and joints with stressful repetitive behaviors such as clenching or grinding, biting fingernails, or cradling the telephone with your neck.
Keep muscles relaxed. Throughout the day, consciously relax the muscles of your face, neck, and shoulders. Clench for a few seconds, then separate your teeth, keeping your lips barely touching and relaxing your tongue at the same time.
Listen to relaxation tapes before bed. Don't watch the news or action programs before going to bed.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleep on your back to reduce facial pain.
Apply moist heat to painful area for twenty minutes at a time two to four times a day.
Try ice. If moist heat fails to help, wrap ice in a thin washcloth and apply to the painful area for 10 minutes two to four times a day. Keep the ice in place only until you feel some numbness.
Don't rest your chin on your hand. This puts undo pressure on you jaw.
Chew with your back teeth rather than your biting with your front teeth. Chew your food on both sides at the same time to reduce stress on one side.
Stifle yawns and avoid activities that open the jaw wide. Basically avoid opening so wide that you feel pain (If having dental work, ask yor dentist for breaks to close your mouth).
Try healthy lifestyle practices. Yoga can help improve posture and release tension. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can enhance awareness and offer stress relief. Cognitive behavior therapy can help identify and correct negative patterns and thought and emotion.
You can find more information at www.nidcr.nih.gov, www.aacfp.org, and www.tmj.org. If you are interested in participating in a research study, go to www.OPPERA.org.