If you are experiencing jaw pain that you suspect may be TMJ, you should start by taking care of it at home. TMJ is very common, but for many people it will resolve spontaneously. That’s why you should start with home care for your jaw pain, but you should know when to see a professional.
Home Care for TMJ
The first step in taking care of your TMJ is to stop any behaviors that may be making it worse. Using your teeth for things other than eating is a common cause of TMJ, so you need to stop bad habits like chewing your fingernails, biting pens or pencils, crunching ice, cracking nuts, using your teeth as scissors or pliers, and other non-eating uses of food.
It’s also not a bad idea to try eating soft food for a little bit. A couple of days of delicious soup isn’t everybody’s idea of perfect summer fare, but it might help. Make sure your foods are cooked well and cut them into smaller bites.
Take nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) to cut down on swelling.
Apply heat to sore muscles. You can either take a warm bath or shower for moist heat or use a heating pad. Apply cold to places that are swollen or fluid-filled.
When to See a Professional
As we said, home care is a great place to start if you suspect TMJ, but there are times you will need to see a dentist for TMJ treatment. How do you know when that is?
You Experienced Trauma / an Accident That May Have Caused Serious Injury.
If you spontaneously develop jaw pain, it’s more likely it will also resolve spontaneously. On the other hand, if you experienced a blow to the jaw, a serious fall, or a car accident that may have caused jaw trauma, you need to have it checked out by a professional to make sure that home care is appropriate.
You Don’t Experience Relief from Recommended Medication Doses.
If you’re taking the recommended dose of NSAIDs and you’re not getting relief, this is a good sign that you might have a more serious injury that requires professional attention. This also includes taking the medication for longer (more days in a row) than the label recommends.
You Have Related Symptoms.
If you’re experiencing symptoms related to your jaw pain such as headaches, ear aches, ringing in the ears, loss of balance, or neck pain, this may be a sign that your symptoms require professional attention.
Pain Interferes with Daily Activities.
If your pain is so intense that you can’t work or enjoy leisure activities, it’s time to get professional help.
Symptoms Last More Than a Week.
If your jaw pain and other symptoms persist for more than a week despite following home care recommendations, it’s time to get professional help.
Symptoms Go Away but Recur.
If home care can resolve your symptoms, but they keep coming back, you should see a dentist.