Temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) are fairly common. Depending on how you define the condition, estimates range from 5% to 25% or more, with 12% of Americans likely experiencing the condition at any time.
Fortunately, for most people, TMJ is likely minor and will resolve on its own. So how do you know when it’s time to see a dentist about your TMJ? Here’s a quick guide to help you make this decision.
Start with Home Treatment
When you start experiencing TMJ symptoms, you can start by treating them at home. Typical home treatment consists of one or more of the following:
- Resting the jaw
- OTC medication
- Hot or cold packs
Depending on your symptoms and how well they respond to treatments, you might use one or all of them. They are safe to use as complementary treatments.
Rest Your Jaw
Most TMJ is linked to muscle soreness. Sometimes all your muscles need is a break, and they will feel better. To rest your jaw, you can eat a soft diet, cut down on talking, and try to reduce stress.
A soft diet means avoiding hard and/or crunchy foods like carrots, chips, celery, steak, and more. It doesn’t mean you have to eat a pureed diet, nor does it mean you have to switch to a liquid diet. Just try to stick to the softer side of your normal diet. Make sure you’re still getting a balanced diet–don’t just eat junk food. Ice cream is comforting occasionally, but it shouldn’t be the main staple in your diet.
When reducing talking, let people know why you feel you have to reduce time spent talking. This helps smooth things over, as people can get offended if you suddenly stop wanting to talk. People should understand if you explain the situation to them. If you have to talk for a special work event like a presentation or conference, see if you can postpone or recruit a substitute.
Stress commonly turns into jaw tension. People often clench their jaws when they get upset, though they may not always know it. If you have high stress levels at home or work, try to find ways to relax. It is not always easy to reduce stress. If you find you can’t do it on your own, seek help from family, friends, or a professional.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are common, and they’re often people’s first solution when they experience bodily pain. All OTC medications are appropriate for treating TMJ-related pain. However, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are often the best for TMJ, which can include significant inflammation. However, people also do well with acetaminophen.
There are some concerns, however. OTC drugs are relatively safe, but that does not mean they are without risks. Make sure you understand these risks. Also make sure you are following the recommended dosage, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
Hot or Cold Packs
People often ask: Is heat or cold better for TMJ pain? The truth is that it depends on the cause of your pain. Heat, especially moist heat, is best for muscle pain. Cold is best to numb all pain, and helps to reduce inflammation.
If you know that your jaw pain and other TMJ symptoms are linked to muscle soreness, then a hot pack is the best option. However, if you are unsure, cold might be a better option. Not only does cold reliably reduce discomfort, it helps control inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, can increase inflammation. Fortunately, neither is liable to cause significant harm (unless you use packs that are too hot or too cold or use them for too long without insulation).
When to Stop Home Care
So how do you know when to stop attempting home care and seek professional help for TMJ? Seek professional help if symptoms:
- Are serious or crippling
- Last for seven days or more
- Recur regularly
- Worsen under home care
Serious TMJ Symptoms Need Professional Care
You should seek professional care immediately if you experience TMJ symptoms. Serious TMJ symptoms make it hard to live your normal life. A jaw that is locked or nearly locked enough to keep you from eating counts. Don’t try to force a locked jaw on your own. You could cause permanent damage. Instead, seek help from a professional who knows how to safely release a locked jaw.
Serious symptoms also include pain that wakes you up from sleep, makes it impossible to focus, or doesn’t respond to recommended dosage of OTC medications.
Lasting or Recurring TMJ Needs Professional Care
If your TMJ symptoms don’t resolve after about a week of home care, or if they go away but recur, you should get professional care. There isn’t a hard and fast rule about when to seek professional care. A week is an approximate time. If you feel symptoms aren’t improving after six days, maybe you should get professional care. However, if your symptoms are improving but still present after eight days, maybe you don’t need care.
The situation is similar for recurring symptoms. If they recur infrequently, you might not need help. But if they recur frequently–or start recurring more frequently–you should seek professional care.
Worsening Symptoms Need Professional Care
The home care approaches we recommend above are unlikely to do harm.However, you might have a rapidly developing case of TMJ that becomes noticeably worse while you are caring for it. If this happens, stop home care (in case it is contributing to the problem) and seek immediate professional care.
TMJ Treatment in Miami Beach
If your TMJ does not respond to home care, and you need professional help, SoBe Dentist is here for you. Our NYU-trained TMJ dentists have also taken specialized training in the care of jaw problems, including TMJ at the prestigious Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI). They can help you get relief from your symptoms. Sometimes you can experience immediate relief at your first appointment.
Please call (305) 535-2225 or use our online form to request an appointment today at SoBe Dentist in Miami Beach.