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Helping Your Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Heal

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint located where the upper and lower jaws meet. When the TMJ and related muscles are injured, they need time to heal. Self-care is very important. You can take steps to reduce pressure on the TMJ and speed healing.

Woman drinking a fruit smoothie from a straw.

Eating with care

Chewing strains the TMJ. When symptoms are bad, you may not be able to chew at all. To get you through times when your symptoms are at their worst, try these tips:

  • Choose soft foods, like scrambled eggs, oatmeal, yogurt, quiche, tofu, soup, smoothies, pasta, fish, mashed potatoes, milkshakes, bananas, applesauce, gelatin, or ice cream.

  • Avoid biting into hard foods, like whole apples, carrots, and corn on the cob. Instead, cut foods into bite-sized pieces.

  • Grind or finely chop meats and other tough foods. Try hamburger meat instead of steak.

Using ice and heat

Your health care provider may suggest using ice and heat. Ice helps reduce swelling and pain. Heat helps relax muscles, increasing blood flow.

  • Use a gel pack or ice wrapped in a towel for severe pain. Apply for 10 to 20 minutes. Repeat as needed.

  • Use moist heat for mild to moderate muscle pain. Apply a moist, warm towel to the muscles for 10 to 20 minutes. Repeat as needed.

Avoiding triggers

Certain activities (called triggers) strain the TMJ, making symptoms worse. The tips below can help you avoid common triggers and limit strain.

  • Avoid hard or chewy foods, like nuts, pretzels, popcorn, chips, gum, caramel, gummy candies, carrots, whole apples, hard breads, and even ice.

  • Reschedule routine dental visits, like cleanings, if your jaw aches. If you have severe pain, call your health care provider.

  • Support your jaw when yawning. When you feel a yawn coming on, put a fist under your jaw. Apply gentle pressure. This helps prevent wide, painful yawns.

  • Avoid any activity that hurts, like nail biting, yelling, and singing.

Maintaining good posture

Work at improving your posture during the day and when you sleep. Good posture can help your body heal. Try these tips:

  • Use a headset when on the telephone. Don’t cradle the phone with your shoulder.

  • Keep ergonomics in mind. This includes making sure your workstation fits your body. Support your lower back. Take frequent breaks to stretch and rest. If you use a computer, keep the monitor at eye level.

  • Keep your head in a neutral position, with your ears in line with your shoulders. Don’t slouch or crane your head forward.

  • Use an orthopaedic pillow to support your head and neck during sleep.

 

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