It’s not encouraged to let your jaw pain go untreated. “Clenching and grinding causes wear, chipping, and fracture of the teeth at the bare minimum,” Dr. Nejad says. “Other common effects include joint pain, muscle pain and headaches.” But unfortunately, there’s not one single, easy way to solve this issue. Instead, you should try to take on a multi-pronged approach that involves seeking out a doctor, treating inflammation and finding ways to manage your stress.
- Visit your dentist. Most will recommend a splint (otherwise known as a night-guard) that both prevents damage and can provide relief from clenching or grinding.
- Consider planning a visit to a dermatologist. And ask for Botox. Yes, seriously. “Neuromodulator injections [like Botox] are great for treating jaw pain from clenching or grinding because it helps to relax the muscles involved, the masseter muscles. It relaxes the masseter muscles and prevents them from overworking,” says Dr. King. Just make sure your derm is trained and experienced with injecting in this area, as she notes it’s technically an off-label use. (BTW, off-label use isn’t as illegal or scary as it sounds; it just means a physician is using a drug that the FDA has approved to treat a condition different than your condition.) If you’d prefer, some dentists who specialize in TMJ also administer Botox for jaw-related pain.
- Keep your teeth apart. This is a nicer way of saying: Stop clenching your jaw! Be aware of your behaviors and stop them as soon as you notice them. Per Dr. Nejad: “When you keep your teeth apart, the muscles that are responsible for closing the jaw are not working, so they’re resting.”
- Try a warm compress. The experts agree: 15 minutes each day of a warm compress will help soothe some of the soreness in your jaw while treating the inflammation that might be causing pain. While you could dip a towel into warm or hot water to create a compress, this TrekProof reusable gel pack ($15) can be boiled or microwaved and will work just as well.
- Add stretches into your daily routine. Just as you would with any overworked muscle, stretching your jaw will counteract all the tension it’s holding. Dr. Nejad’s go-to is the N stretch. Basically, say the letter “N” and while your mouth is in that position, stretch your jaw open as far as it will go while keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Hold the stretch for six seconds, relax, then repeat five times. “It’s recommended to do this six times a day, as well as any time you catch yourself clenching your teeth during the day. After all, if you’re clenching, the muscle is contracted, and to help the muscle, you need to stretch it,” Dr. Nejad smartly points out.
- Keep away from certain foods. “I recommend patients avoid foods and snacks that require excessive chewing or opening their mouth wide,” says Dr. Nejad. Skip the gum and chewy candy, but also stay away from hard, crusty breads, large sandwiches, raw vegetables and hard fruits or nuts.
- Try at-home acupressure. Similar to acupuncture (but easier to do from the couch), acupressure stimulates points on the body that correspond to an array of ailments or conditions.
“Stomach 6 is my go-to point for TMJ,” explains Kim Ross, founder of ORA, an acupuncture studio in New York. “The easiest way to find Stomach 6 is to clench your jaw and feel for the muscle. Then massage that area with your fingers for five to ten minutes, two to three times a day.”
Ross also suggested seeking out Large Intestine 4, which is located in the middle area between your thumb and forefinger. “Sitting in a calm space, closing your eyes and breathing into your stomach while pushing on this point will help calm your nerves and bring relaxation to the jaw,” she details.