You have two temporomandibular joints (TMJs), one on either side of your head. Your TMJs attach your jawbone to your skull and allow it to move up, down, out, in, and to the side. When your TMJs are healthy and strong, you open and close your jaw without pain or difficulty.
However, if you have TMJ disorder, commonly referred to as “TMJ,” your jaw doesn’t act like a well-oiled hinge. Instead, it causes unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Getting stuck
- Jaw or face pain
- Tooth pain
- Shoulder and neck pain
Dana J. Rockey, DMD, is a dental sleep specialist at our offices in Newport Beach, California, and Prescott, Arizona. He’s also an expert at diagnosing and treating TMJ disorders. If you have TMJ pain, a first-line treatment he recommends is heat and cold therapy to alleviate swelling and pain.
Use ice to ease swelling and pain
If your jaw is swollen and it hurts when you move it, your first do-it-yourself (DIY) remedy — other than rest — should be placing a wrapped ice pack on your jaw. Ice constricts blood vessels, which can reduce the swelling on an injured, throbbing jaw.
Ice also helps settle the nerves that may be irritated by a jaw that doesn’t open or close with ease. If ice alone doesn’t ease the pain, you can also try over-the-counter pain relievers.
Be sure to wrap the ice or ice pack before you apply it to your skin. Ice applied directly to skin could blister or burn it. Even placing a small towel or washcloth between the ice and your jaw is enough to offer some protection. Only apply the ice for about 15 minutes at a time, several times during the day.
Use heat to increase circulation
In contrast to cold, heat dilates your blood vessels, which increases circulation to the area. Increased circulation means that your tired, painful jaw is flooded with oxygen and nutrients it needs to function at its best.
The heat can also relax the muscles and other soft tissues that operate your TMJ. Many cases of TMJ disorder are, at their root, an unconscious response to stress. In these cases, you may clench your jaw or grind your teeth, habits that fatigue your TMJ and endanger the health of your teeth, too. Also, be sure to wrap your heating pad and limit use to about 15-20 minutes at a time.
Alternate cold and heat for best results
Athletes often use a combination of cold and hot therapy to stimulate healing and pain relief in fatigued and stressed muscles. For instance, they may dip themselves in a cold pool, where temperatures may be as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, after a minute or two, they switch to a heated spa, where temperatures may be as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even though you can’t really dip your jaw in and out of cold and hot pools, you can use the same principles when treating your TMJ pain. Simply start by applying a wrapped cold compress to your jaw for several minutes. After removing it, apply a wrapped heating pad.
Long-term relief starts with prevention
If you have TMJ, though, you don’t want to spend your life switching from cold compresses to hot ones, then back again. Ideally, address your TMJ pain at its source so that your jaw functions smoothly and painlessly again.
Many cases of TMJ start because of an unconscious habit called bruxism. If you engage in bruxism, you clench your jaw and grind your teeth at night. Sometimes, bruxism is the sign of a further condition, a potentially dangerous sleep breathing disorder called sleep apnea.
Find out what’s causing your TMJ pain and get the treatment you need by booking a TMJ consultation today. Call us at 949-558-0554 in Newport Beach, California, or 928-235-6925 in Prescott, Arizona, to schedule a consultation, or use our online message form.