What do I need to know about caring for someone with TMJ?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

While most people with TMJ will be able to care for themselves, there are some things you can keep in mind if you are around a person with TMJ. Be mindful that they may be in pain as that is a primary symptom. You may need to be present if they require particularly strong pain relievers or sedatives. If you prepare food for them, they may need a special diet of soft foods that are not chewy. Stress can be an underlying cause of TMJ, so make an effort to provide a relaxing environment and not to add stress to the person's life.

If you are caring for someone with TMJ disorder, you should be aware that a common symptom is pain. The person you are caring for may have pain in her jaw, ear, head, or throughout her face. It may help to know some ways to help reduce her pain. Some things you may want to try include:

  • Place ice packs on the painful area(s).
  • Remind her to avoid as much as possible the actions that bring on the TMJ pain (for example, yawning widely or gum chewing).
  • Go through jaw muscle stretching and relaxation exercises with her (the dentist, doctor, or physical therapist can demonstrate these).
  • Offer her softer foods, such as yogurts and mashed vegetables, since chewing may worsen pain.
  • Offer over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin), as temporary pain relief measures. Remember to ask the doctor if these medicines are OK for the person you are caring for to use.

If these options do not improve her symptoms, another visit to the dentist or doctor may be helpful. He or she can recommend stronger medicines, suggest the use of a device called a stabilization splint, or suggest some stress-reduction techniques.

Before treating TMJ the cause must first be determined. Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, the dentist may refer you to a physician or another dentist. There are several treatments for TMJ disorders which include: 

  • eating softer foods
  • avoiding chewing gum and biting your nails
  • modifying the pain with heat packs
  • practicing relaxation techniques to control jaw tension, such as meditation or biofeedback
  • exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles
  • medications prescribed by your dentist; for example, muscle relaxants, analgesics, anti-anxiety drugs or anti-inflammatory medications
  • a night guard or bite plate to decrease clenching or grinding of teeth.

In some cases, your dentist may recommend fixing an uneven bite by adjusting or reshaping some teeth. Orthodontic treatment may also be recommended. Your dentist can suggest the most appropriate therapy based on the suspected cause.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.