It’s no secret that TMJ is painful and frustrating in its effects on everyday life. Seeking professional help is a great step, especially in the early stages, before it gets worse, but the good news is that there are also a few things you can do from the comfort of your own home. Here are five simple ways to find relief now:
1. Reduce caffeine intake
Caffeine can make your TMJ symptoms worse because caffeine makes your muscles move more than they would without caffeine. Caffeine also amps up your nervous system, making you feel even more anxious and stressed, and consequently, making you tense up your muscles including those in your jaw. Cutting back on coffee isn’t easy and it’s probably not best to stop cold turkey. Instead, start by tracking how many cups (and how many mgs of caffeine you take in per day). Then incrementally begin to lower your dosage, noting how your body and your jaw responds. Cut from full caffeine drinks to half-cafe, then decaf, then switch from coffee to tea, making as many drops as necessary until you can get a nice pick-me-up without a full-throttle anxiety attack.
2. Mindfulness and yoga
You probably know by now that anxiety causes tension and muscle tightness. Anxiety is a huge reason why people start grinding, especially women. Ultimately, it’s critical that you begin to notice why you feel anxiety and stress and to try and reduce or eliminate those things. But the first step in this process is one that many people overlook: simply becoming more aware. Awareness of anxiety doesn’t mean trying to solve anxiety, it just means noticing it…seeing where it comes from, where it causes tension in your body, and if anything in particular functions as a trigger. Simply becoming aware of anxiety allows you to start making other choices in response, rather than tensing subconsciously, reaching for external comforts like food and beverages, or pushing it down and ignoring it.
Try this: next time you feel anxious, try simple actions like pausing, taking a deep breath, and exhaling to the count of ten, just noticing where you’re holding the anxiety in your body. Yoga can also help: Child’s Pose, Butterfly Pose, and Downward Dog poses are great companions for mindful breathing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try getting some of the thoughts in your head on paper. Something as simple as a to-do list or a journal entry can help you feel more in control of your situation.
Anxiety and stress are two of the most common reasons why people clench their jaw and develop TMJ. Improving your Magnesium intake can help relax your muscles and calm your mind. Magnesium helps your body deal with stress by fortifying the GABA receptors in your brain, which are responsible for helping your brain turn “off.” Magnesium also regulates the number of stress hormones that are allowed to enter your brain, keeping at bay anxiety, brain fog, and depression. Magnesium also helps keep muscles relaxed (including the muscles in your face) and improves your sleep quality. Research shows that about 75% of Americans suffer from low magnesium levels as a consequence of our overly-processed diets. Eating more leafy vegetables can help counter this, but supplements can also be helpful. Depending on your gender and age, you should be aiming for around 300-500mgs per day.
4. Ice and Heat
If you’re having a particularly intense flair-up, try using either ice packs or heat packs to relieve the tension and help the muscles in your jaw relax. Put a wet towel in the microwave for a few seconds and place it on your jaw like a compress. You can also use an ice pack for up to five minutes. While you’re relaxing with either ice or heat, trying resting your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This will help you become more aware of your mouth and stop clenching.
5. Stop Chewing Gum.
If you chew gum, giving it up could be one small step you take to find relief. Chewing gum repetitively throughout the day increases masseter muscle (cheeks) clenching or in your cheeks. Giving up the gum is only half the battle. The other half is taking time to realize why you chew gum. Are you stressed? Are you craving gum’s often sugary flavor? Is it just part of your daily routine? Is it what you reach for when stressed? Becoming aware of the reason you chew gum is essential and will make it easier for you to break the habit.
These at-home solutions work especially great when combined with professional consultation and help. That’s why I’m here. You don’t have to go it alone when it comes to TMJ. Book a consultation with me today so you can get the information and treatment plan you need to feel truly in control.