Temporomandibular Disorder: Care Instructions

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Area of joints and muscles affected by temporomandibular disorders

Your Care Instructions

Temporomandibular (TM) disorders are a problem with the muscles and joints that connect your jaw to your skull. They cause pain when you open your mouth, chew, or yawn. You may feel this pain on one or both sides.

TM disorders are often caused by tight jaw muscles. The tightness can be caused by clenching or grinding your teeth. This may happen when you have a lot of stress in your life.

If you lower your stress, you may be able to stop clenching or grinding your teeth. This will help relax your jaw and reduce your pain.

You may also be able to do some things at home to feel better. But if none of this works, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help relax your muscles and control the pain.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Put a warm, moist cloth or heating pad set on low on your jaw. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your skin.
  • Avoid hard or chewy foods that cause your jaws to work very hard. Examples include popcorn, jerky, tough meats, chewy breads, gum, and raw apples and carrots.
  • Choose softer foods that are easy to chew. These include eggs, yogurt, and soup.
  • Cut your food into small pieces. Chew slowly.
  • If your jaw gets too painful to chew, or if it locks, you may need to puree your food for a few days or weeks.
  • To relax your jaw, repeat this exercise for a few minutes every morning and evening. Watch yourself in a mirror. Gently open and close your mouth. Move your jaw straight up and down. But don't do this if it makes your pain worse.
  • Get at least 2½ hours of exercise a week to relieve stress. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Do not:
    • Hold a phone between your shoulder and your jaw.
    • Open your mouth all the way, like when you sing loudly or yawn.
    • Clench or grind your teeth, bite your lips, or chew your fingernails.
    • Clench things such as pens, pipes, or cigars between your teeth.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your jaw is locked open or shut or it is hard to move your jaw.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your jaw pain gets worse.
  • Your face is swollen.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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