How to Alleviate the Pain of TMJ

Katie's temporomandibular joint disorder started when she was still a teenager. The pain started seemingly out of nowhere, about a year after the removal of her braces. She was confused what was happening. Her dentist told her that she was suffering from TMJ. He fit her for a bite guard, advised not to chew gum, and recommended over-the-counter pain medication.  Katie still struggles with the symptoms now, years later. She reports that the chronic pain episodes of the TMJ occur in cycles – when she is highly stressed, when another part of her body hurts, or when she visits the dentist.


Unfortunately, many of us can relate to Katie. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the prevalence of temporomandibular disorder (TMJD) is 5-12%. Unlike the majority of chronic pain conditions, there is a higher prevalence of this ailment among younger demographics. Women are more than twice as likely to experience TMJ as men are. Also, women who take birth control pills or estrogen supplements are likelier to suffer from TMJD.


What can we do about TMJ? Before we explore at-home treatment methods and the use of BOTOX® to alleviate this chronic jaw pain condition, let’s look more specifically at what TMJ is.


TMJ? Or TMJD? Or TMD?


TMJ, TMJD, and TMD: what do each of these acronyms related to temporomandibular joint disorders mean?



There is not any strong controversy related to TMD vs. TMJD, but TMJ is not accepted as a term by all parties. WebMD, for instance, states explicitly that TMJ is incorrect; writing about TMD, the website notes that "you may hear it wrongly called TMJ, after the joint."


At-home treatment methods


Here are some at-home treatment recommendations (from the TMJ Association, Practical Pain Management, and eMedicineHealth):


  1. Ergonomics – Be careful about your posture if you are sitting at a computer for the work day. Try to resist the urge to lean toward the screen (which strains your neck and back, in turn leading to TMJ pain). Make sure there is sufficient support for your back. Your head should also not be tilted so that your chin is out front. Do you ever need to look at hard copies, to-do lists, or other notes when you type? Build that into your ergonomic approach with a document holder. Also be careful about the phone. Use a headset so that you can type while you talk as necessary. If you are in the habit of cradling the phone with your shoulder and cheek, the headset will help remove significant strain from your neck and jaw.
  2. Over-the-counter medication – While long-term use of pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen has dangerous side-effects, you can alleviate TMJ pain with these anti-inflammatory drugs as a temporary measure.
  3. Care with food selection – Mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and other soft foods can help loosen the muscles of the jaw and deliver pain-relief. When you eat a hard food such as a carrot, you can lessen the impact by dicing it into tiny pieces. Be careful to avoid chewing gum and any foods that are sticky.
  4. Stress reduction – Use stress-reduction strategies. High stress is dangerous to the body (negative impacts include headache, depression, insomnia, weakened immune system, stomachache, high blood sugar, risk of heart attack, and fertility problems), so you will be making improvement far beyond TMJ by taking measures to manage it. Five ways to reduce stress, from the American Psychological Association (APA), include meditation; exercise; laughter and smiling; social interaction; and getting away from the stressor for a period of time.
  5. Avoidance of yelling – Any jaw movements that excessively test the jaw muscles, such as yelling or yawning, could lead to more severe TMJ symptoms.
  6. Bite guard – You can use a stabilization splint in your mouth, a bite guard, to prevent clenching or grinding when you sleep. These assistive tools, typically made from plastic, fit over top of your lower and upper teeth so that they cannot touch. Note that a bite guard is a temporary measure. Also be aware that you should contact your doctor if pain gets worse or if it is altering your bite.  


BOTOX® for TMJ?


If you are suffering from the pain of this condition, you may already have tried some of the above strategies. Have you become frustrated with your search for pain relief? There is another option beyond the steps you can take yourself at home.


BOTOX® works by temporarily relaxing the over-constricted muscles that cause TMJ disorder. At the Aesthetic Surgery Center, we have found that this technique is particularly remarkable because it may actually train the muscle into a healthier pattern – sometimes leading to permanent relief of TMJ tension.

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