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TMJ Dysfunction

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the 2 joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull. More specifically, they are the joints that slide and rotate in front of each ear, and consist of the mandible (the lower jaw) and the temporal bone (the side and base of the skull). The TMJs are among the most complex joints in the body. These joints, along with several muscles, allow the mandible to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back. When the mandible and the joints are properly aligned, smooth muscle actions, such as chewing, talking, yawning, and swallowing, can take place. When these structures (muscles, ligaments, disk, jaw bone, and/or temporal bone) are not aligned, nor synchronized in movement, several problems may occur.

Self care that can be tried at home:

  1. Rest the muscles and joints – this will allow healing. Rest includes:
    1. A soft food diet – avoid crunchy, chewy foods like hard nuts, chips, carrots, hard breads.
    2. Avoid chewing gum
    3. No clenching or tensing – learn to say “teeth apart, face and jaw relaxed”.
  2. Avoid opening the mouth too wide – this protects the joints and prevents them from locking open.
    1. Yawn against pressure
    2. Eat small bites
    3. Avoid general anesthesia when possible
    4. Avoid long dental visits, and rest frequently during all dental procedures
  3. Apply cold for 5-10 minutes for severe pain, new injuries (less than 72 hours), and re-injury.
  4. Apply moist heat for 20 minutes for mild to moderate pain. This increases circulation and muscle relaxation and promotes healing.
  5. Use heat and ice for quick relief from muscle pain. Apply heat for 5 seconds, followed by ice for 5 seconds and repeat 4-5 times.
  6. Massage the jaw and temple muscles. This stimulates circulation, relaxes muscles and decreases soreness.
  7. Maintain good posture – avoid a forward head position which may increase jaw and neck muscle activity and soreness.
  8. Telephone use – do not cradle the phone on the shoulder; this irritates jaw and neck muscles.
  9. Sleeping position – sleep on your side with pillow support between the neck and shoulders and soft support along the face and jaw; or sleep on your back with the neck curve supported.
  10. Exercise 20-30 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a week. Choose low impact exercises to minimize pressure on the joints.
  11. Over-the-counter medications are helpful for pain and inflammation. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, according to directions.
  12. Good nutrition promotes joint and muscle healing.

UCSD Student Health

Call 858-534-3300 for an appointment if symptoms persist or are worsening.