Treatment of temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD) starts with the recommendation to avoid whatever is triggering your pain. Try these additional measures to improve symptoms:
Don’t open wide. Limit extreme jaw movements when eating, yawning, and laughing, for instance.
Watch what you bite. Avoid hard-to-chew foods like bagels, dried fruit, toffee, and gummy candies. Curb habits such as chewing on gum, biting your nails, and chewing on pencils.
Apply heat or cold. Heat helps relax taut, overused muscles. Try a heating pad, hot towel, or hot water bottle for 20 minutes at a time. Cold compresses to the jaw can decrease inflammation and numb pain; you can try alternating ice and heat.
Relax. If stress makes you clench your jaw, try deep breathing or other relaxation techniques. Let your jaw hang slightly when not chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
Avoid putting pressure on your jaw. Don’t lean on your chin; try to sleep in a position in which you don’t rest on your jaw.
Work on changing any habit that may contribute to your disorder. For instance, don’t grip your phone between your shoulder and cheek during a long conversation.
This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.