TMJ and Toothbrushing Challenges


Although proper dental care is essential to a healthy mouth, those with temporomandibular disorders (TMD) find that it can be difficult to maintain. When your jaw is sore and it’s hard to hold your mouth open, simple tasks like brushing and flossing can feel impossible.

Many people with TMD dread brushing their teeth if their symptoms are not under control. It may trigger headaches ear pain, jaw popping, and more. As a result, they may make some common mistakes that can lead to poor oral hygiene and issues like tooth decay and gum disease.

Problems With Brushing and Flossing

Many patients may be brushing or flossing incorrectly due to their TMD without even realizing it. Some issues we have seen include:

  • Not brushing long enough. You should be brushing for 2 minutes, twice a day. Understandably, this can seem like an eternity to someone with TMD (even people with healthy jaws often don’t brush for this long!).
  • Quickly sawing the brush back and forth. Many people will swipe the brush along the teeth to help avoid having to open their mouth. But proper brushing technique involves using gentle circular motions along each tooth surface.
  • Skipping flossing. Flossing can be downright taxing for someone with TMD, as getting between each tooth takes time and involves opening the mouth wide for much of the time.

What You Should Do

You can’t get around brushing and flossing: it has to be done. So, we try to find creative ways for our TMD patients to make it more bearable. We often advise our patients to do the following to keep their oral health in top shape while managing TMD:

  • Use a children’s toothbrush to minimize the need to open the mouth too wide
  • Consider a gentle electric toothbrush for more efficient cleaning
  • Floss daily with whatever is most comfortable: dental picks or floss holders are often easy to use
  • Take breaks in the middle of brushing or flossing if your jaw begins to hurt
  • Only open your mouth as wide as necessary and keep it relaxed whenever possible. It’s usually not prudent to stretch your mouth open the entire time you brush or floss, as it makes it difficult to reach the sides of teeth.
  • Listen to music you enjoy while you brush and floss to help you stay relaxed and alleviate stress.
  • Consider using essential oils for pain and relaxation both before and after you brush.

These tips can make brushing feel more comfortable and can help you get into a good oral hygiene habit again. Don’t forget to see your dentist every 6 months for a checkup to ensure problems like cavities or gum disease are addressed early, when they are most treatable.

Good oral hygiene is essential to a healthy life. If opening your mouth to brush or floss is too painful, contact MedCenter TMJ for help.

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