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Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Pathway

Review your treatment and management options

You will need your own specific treatment and management plan for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Always follow the specific recommendations from your healthcare team.

Some of these treatment options may be covered by Alberta Health or your private insurance plan. Others may have a cost. If you have questions about coverage and costs for treatments and services, talk to your healthcare team.

Jaw rest

With TMJ dysfunction, using your jaw muscle​s can increase your pain and symptoms. To rest your jaw muscles and relax your body:

  • Learn to recognize when you are clenching your teeth. Practice keeping your teeth apart and bringing them together only when you swallow or eat.
  • Do not overuse and stress your jaw muscles. Avoid chewing gum or any other chewy foods and avoid biting your nails and resting your chin on your hand.
  • Try changing what you eat and how you eat. Choose softer foods that are easy to chew, like eggs, yogurt, or soup. Or try cutting your food into small pieces. Avoid hard foods that cause your jaw to work very hard. You may need to puree your food for some time if it is too painful to chew or if your jaw locks.
  • Apply heat, like a warm cloth or heat pack, for 20 minutes at a time to help relax your muscles and improve your pain. You can do this a few times each day.
  • Ice packs or cold packs can be helpful to reduce swelling and reduce pain for some people. Use an ice pack or cold pack on your jaw for up to 20 minutes at a time, a few times each day.
  • Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to do a gentle self-massage to ease the pain and decrease the tension in your jaw.

Stress reduction

Stress can increase muscle activity in your jaw. If you try to lower your stress, you may be able to stop clenching or grinding your teeth, relax your jaw, and reduce your pain. Try relaxation strategies for your mind and body.

If you find that your stress levels are too high or if you are struggling to cope on your own, your healthcare team may be able to refer you to a mental health specialist. Find more mental health supports and resources at Help in Tough Times.

Dental appliance

Dental appliances, sometimes called night guards, can reduce pain and help improve your mouth opening. See a dentist for a dental appliance assessment and fitting. Over-the-counter dental appliances and mouth guards are often designed for sport activities and are not recommended for TMJ dysfunction.


Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter medicine to relieve your pain, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Depending on your pain level and symptoms, they may also recommend other medicines like muscle relaxants. Muscle relaxants may cause drowsiness, so you should take them at bedtime. Always read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

Botulinum toxin (often called Botox) injections are shots that prevent a muscle from moving for a limited time. Botox injections can provide some relief of TMJ dysfunction symptoms. Many different healthcare providers in Alberta can do Botox injections. Make sure the person giving you the Botox injection is certified and has experience.

Physiotherapy and massage therapy

Physiotherapy treatments for TMJ dysfunction might include massage, dry needling (intra-muscular stimulation), mobilization, ultrasound, heat, and ice. Your physiotherapist may also show you exercises to stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles.

Massage therapy can also reduce how often and how painful your TMJ dysfunction symptoms are.


Most people do not need surgery for TMJ dysfunction. Your healthcare team may look at surgery options if other treatments don't work. You should try other treatment options for at least 3 months before looking at surgery.

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction pathway map

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction Pathway

Download or print the full patient pathway (PDF) and summary (one-page PDF) to learn more about how to manage and treat TMJ dysfunct​ion.
Patient Pathway      Summary  ​​​​​​​

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