Does your jaw often hurt or feel tight? Do you wake up with headaches and unexplained soreness in your face or neck? Have you ever heard your jaw click when you open and close your mouth, or felt it getting tired when eating chewy food?

If so, you might have TMJ disorder. Thankfully, there are some simple exercises you can work on at home to help ease pain and stiffness in the jaw.

In this blog post, we’ll review what TMJ disorder is, a few techniques you can use to treat it at home, and how Cedar Village Dentistry can help.

What is TMJ disorder?

Temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD, refers to a condition causing pain and tension in the jaw and face. This happens when the temporomandibular joint (the joint connecting your cheekbones to your jaw) becomes inflamed or improperly positioned. 

These joints are unique because they can move both forward and backward and side to side. They are commonly compared to a door hinge, because they allow you to open and close your mouth, talk, chew, yawn, and more. Unfortunately, they can also be temperamental, causing an estimated 10 million people to experience TMJ disorder symptoms.

Causes of TMJ

Although the cause for TMJ disorder is often unclear, a few common problems that can lead to TMD include: 

  • A jaw, neck, or head injury 
  • Misaligned teeth 
  • Arthritis 
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth 
  • Poor posture 
  • Stress 
  • Sleep apnea
  • Upper airway resistance syndrome
  • Disrupted sleep

You read that right — research suggests stress may be one of the leading causes of TMJ disorder. That’s because when we are stressed, we are more likely to clench our jaw or grind our teeth (a condition called bruxism). Let’s pause for a second: are you clenching your jaw right now? If so, take a moment to breathe deep and relax your jaw muscles!

Many people who clench their jaw or grind their teeth don’t even realize they are doing it, especially when they do it at night. If you often wake up with headaches, you may be experiencing sleep bruxism, a stepping stone to TMJ disorder. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Dooley. He’ll review symptoms you are experiencing and come up with the best treatment plan for you.

Signs you may have TMJ

A few other symptoms of TMJ disorder include: 

  • Pain around the jaw, ears and/or neck  
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Clicking or locking in the jaw 
  • Difficulty opening your mouth 
  • Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw, or around the jaw joint
  • Headaches
  • Limited range of motion in your jaw

At home exercises to help treat TMJ

Thankfully, if you’re experiencing symptoms of TMJ disorder, there are some easy at-home exercises you can practice to help ease pain and tension in the jaw. 

These at-home exercises focus on:

  • Relaxing the jaw
  • Stretching the jaw
  • Strengthening the jaw

1. Chin stretch

How to do it:

  • Start out by either standing straight against a wall, or standing up very straight, tucking your shoulders back and holding your chest up 
  • Then, pull your chin back and down, creating a “double chin” 
  • Hold this position for 3-5 seconds 
  • Repeat 5-6 times 

2. Relaxed jaw

How to do it:

  • Touch your tongue to the roof if your mouth, right behind the front teeth 
  • Open and close your mouth 
  • Repeat 5-6 times

3. Resisted opening

How to do it:

  • Place your thumb under your chin
  • Slowly open your mouth while applying a gentle pressure with your thumb to create a light resistance  
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds 
  • Close your mouth 
  • Repeat 5-6 times

4. Resisted closing

How to do it: 

  • Gently grab your chin by placing both of your index fingers on your chin with your thumbs underneath your chin 
  • Open your mouth 
  • Put a slight pressure on your chin as you try to close it, creating a light resistance  
  • Repeat 5-6 times

5. Side-to-side movement

How to do it: 

  • Put a tongue depressor, clean pen cap or similarly sized item between your front teeth 
  • Slowly move your jaw from side to side 
  • Repeat 5-6 times
  • As your jaw becomes stronger, you can increase the height of the item in your mouth by stacking tongue depressors

6. Front and back movement

How to do it: 

  • Place a tongue depressor, clean pen cap, or similarly sized item between your front teeth
  • Move your jaw forward, so your bottom teeth stick out further than your top teeth 
  • Repeat 5-6 times
  • As the exercise becomes easier, increase the thickness of the item between your teeth

7. Breathing exercises

Though not specific to TMJ, breathing exercises help ease tension in the muscles and reduce stress that can lead to you grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. 

How to do it: 

Exercise #1 

  • Slowly inhale through the nose only for 4 seconds, allowing your stomach to expand 
  • Slowly exhale for 4 seconds
  • Repeat 

Exercise #2

  • Slowly inhale through the nose for 4 seconds 
  • Hold for 4 seconds 
  • Slowly exhale for 4 seconds 
  • Hold for 4 seconds 
  • Repeat 

Dr. Dooley can help treat your TMJ pain

If you’ve tried at-home TMJ exercises and are still experiencing pain, headaches, or tension, there are professional treatment options available here in our Mason, OH dentist office. These include: 

  1. Dental botox – Botox is a natural muscle relaxant, and an effective way to ease pain and  decrease jaw tension, headaches from TMJ, and stress-induced lockjaw. 
  2. Night guard – If you think you might be grinding or clenching your teeth at night, a night guard could be a fantastic option for you to help prevent TMJ, or ease symptoms of it. A night guard is essentially a piece of plastic, similar to a retainer, custom fit to your teeth. It acts as a barrier between your teeth when you grind or clench them, helping protect you from wearing them down. It is an effective way to help ease tension from grinding or clenching your teeth. 

Ask Dr. Dooley if either of these options is right for you!

Contact Cedar Village Dentistry today

If you’re experiencing symptoms of or pain from TMJ, contact us today! Our team is experienced in treating TMJ disorder. We want to help you start feeling better and living pain-free in your face and jaw.

Call us at  (513) 770-4370 or set up your appointment online here. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also offering virtual appointments! Click here to learn more.