Unfortunately, if you’re experiencing jaw pain during or after eating, you may dread this necessary and normally enjoyable activity. And while it may seem like a minor inconvenience at first, ongoing pain from eating can lead to a number of serious problems, including:
Weight loss from not eating enough
Lack of proper nutrition and vitamin deficiencies due to avoiding certain foods
Avoidance of important social activities
Problems at work due to ongoing pain that results in lack of concentration, avoiding work-related activities that include food, or lost work time
Lack of sleep due to pain and swelling, which can lead to other health problems
Causes of Painful Eating
Pain during or after eating can result from a number of problems, including tooth decay or other dental problems. Make sure you see your dentist every six months for a checkup and discuss any symptoms you’re having.
If you get frequent headaches, especially migraines, you may also notice that certain foods or the act of chewing very crunchy foods can trigger a headache. If this is happening to you, you may need to see a medical professional who specializes in headache treatment.
Many times, however, pain from eating isn’t a tooth or headache issue — it’s a jaw issue. A temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, causes inflammation, swelling, and pain in the jaw and facial area that can get worse when eating, talking, chewing gum or even breathing through the mouth. TMD is often called TMJ, which is actually the name for the affected jaw joint, known as the temporomandibular joint.
Besides jaw pain and pain after eating, people who have TMD may notice:
Jaw popping, clicking, or a grinding, gravelly sound when using the jaw
Regular headaches, especially upon waking in the morning or after using the jaw
Temple area pain
Pain or stiffness in the back, shoulders, or neck
Inability to freely move or open or close the jaw
Ear pain without an ear infection
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Balance problems or dizziness
What You Should Know About TMD
TMD is a complex condition — because the TMJ is a complex joint. The bones, muscles, and tendons that allow you to move your jaw in different directions must work together perfectly in order to function without pain or symptoms of TMD. If something throws off this balance, the TMJ may become irritated, swollen, or inflamed. This can quickly lead to TMD symptoms.
Many people think that some soreness or popping of the jaw when eating is normal — it’s not. The jaw should work silently and smoothly when it’s in optimal condition. You should be able to eat without any discomfort or stiffness. If this is not the case, don’t ignore it. Over time, symptoms could get worse. Make an appointment with a medical professional who is educated in TMJ disorders and can guide you through treatment.
Why Do I Have TMD?
To make matters even more challenging, there is no single cause of TMD. A number of factors can put you at risk, but it’s often difficult to determine what might have triggered it. Some of the possible causes of TMDinclude:
An injury to the face or jaw
Grinding or clenching the teeth
Bite changes due to dental procedures or teeth shifting
High levels of stress
Ongoing sleep problems
A genetic irregularity in jaw size
Arthritis or other joint problems
Chronic illnesses or immune system issues
Clenching or grinding your teeth
Hormonal changes and shifts
Treating TMD – There is Hope
Many people are wrongly led to believe that if they have TMD, they should simply “tough it out” until it goes away or that it will never get better. This is not the case!
TMD can be treated in a number of non-invasive and highly effective ways. But, you must see a doctor who is experienced in helping people with this complex condition. At MedCenter TMJ, this is what our doctors do every day.
Every patient at our practice receives a personalized treatment plan designed to get you on the path to healing as quickly as possible. This will likely include a custom orthotic appliance that will help align your jaw in its optimal position. You’ll also receive instructions and plans for stretches, exercises, stress management techniques, and ongoing support. If your pain is severe, we will work with you to find safe, effective pain relief to help you get on with your life. We also help our patients with alternative and natural remedies.
How Can I Get Relief From Pain With Eating?
Just like you would not walk on a broken foot until it was healed, you should not excessively use or stress your TMJ if you’re experiencing TMD symptoms. One of the best ways to help rest and heal the TMJ is to follow a TMJ-friendly diet.
A TMJ-friendly diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables for their anti-inflammatory properties. Proper nutrition and healthy foods can improve TMD symptoms. But, don’t consume fruits and vegetables raw if they are crunchy. Instead, cook them until soft or blend them into a nutritious smoothie.
You’ll need to avoid foods that require extensive chewing, as this will stress an already-irritated jaw joint. Crusty bread, tough cuts of meat like jerky or steaks, chips, and similar foods should be avoided. Try softer options such as very soft, thin breads and meats that have been boiled or slow-cooked for softness. Avoid chewing gum at all times and never chomp on ice, hard candy, or other hard foods!
You’ll need to follow your jaw-friendly diet for at least a few weeks. This will give your jaw a time to heal, in addition to a comprehensive treatment plan to address your TMD.
In addition to a softer diet, try to rest the jaw as much as possible. Avoid excessive talking if you can. Set aside time each day to rest with a book and a heating pad on the jaw. Take warm baths and work on deep breathing or other stress management techniques. Focus on getting enough sleep so the body can heal. Treating TMD is not just about the jaw — it’s a whole-body approach.
You deserve to live your life without TMD pain holding you back! Contact MedCenter TMJ today to set up your appointment!