One of the most frustrating things about the symptoms associated with temporomandibular disorders (TMD) is that they can be unpredictable. Some people can go for weeks without any major symptoms, and then wake up one day feeling like their jaw is about to fall off! The unpredictable nature of TMD flare ups makes it difficult to plan anything in advance, and amplifies the impact of the condition on your life.
Why Does TMD Flare Up?
As you probably know all too well already, TMD can be agitated by a wide range of things. These include stress, hormonal fluxes, dehydration, poor posture, eating foods that are particularly difficult to chew, and even chewing gum. Sometimes, all it takes to produce a flare up is a tiny alteration in one of these things.
If you’re experiencing a flare up, it’s worth thinking carefully about any changes you might have made recently which could be responsible for a deterioration in your condition. The good news is that many of the causative factors can be dealt with—there are many techniques out there to reduce stress, for instance, or to relax your jaw directly. The bad news is that reducing stress can be harder than it sounds!
There tends to be a vicious circle of pain and stress: the pain increases your stress, which increases the pain, and so on ad infinitum. Breaking this circle is one of the most important things you can do to manage the disorder.
Of course, being asked to “relax” is frustrating for anyone who has already tried to do so. If there seems to be no way to avoid the flare ups, what can be done about them?
Coping With Flare Ups
The more measures you take to reduce the work done by your jaw muscles, the faster the flare up is likely to resolve. For some people, simply avoiding certain activities such as talking or chewing, and temporarily eating a liquid diet, can allow symptoms to disappear within 24 hours. Conversely, if you ignore the pain and continue heavy use of your jaws, the flare up may continue indefinitely. Some specific things you can do to ease the pain include:
- Resting your jaws
- Staying hydrated
- Applying ice alternated with moist heat
- Applying analgesic or anti-inflammatory creams
- Gentle passive stretching of your jaw
- Correcting your posture
- Sleeping on your back
Thermal therapy is beneficial for many people. Moist heating pads relax the jaw muscles and can be preventative. For more serious pain, especially after the flare up has already begun, ice therapy is recommended.
The team at MedCenter TMJ is dedicated to treating TMD, and helping our patients improve their quality of life. To find out more about how to cope with your flare ups, contact us today!