Jaw rest for TMJ pain is one of the most important self-care measures for those who suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Here we discuss three important jaw rest measures: the TMJ rest position, TMJ mouthguards, and a TMJ diet.
Why Is Jaw Rest for TMJ Important?
Most chronic TMJ disorders start with acute jaw pain. If the pain persists untreated, neurons in the central nervous system become hyperexcitable, leading to “central sensitization” where normal sensations register in your brain as being painful. This causes your jaw muscles to tense and fatigue, causing even more pain. This vicious cycle of pain is the hallmark of chronic TMJ disorders. Doctors now prioritize the treatment of acute jaw pain in an effort to prevent central sensitization and chronic pain. A foundational aspect of jaw pain relief is adequate jaw rest.
The TMJ Rest Position
Proper jaw posture is one of the key techniques you can use to rest your jaw. The “resting mouth position” involves your tongue, lips, and jaw:
Lips: Your lips should cover your teeth and rest together without strain.
Tongue: Your tongue should touch the roof of the mouth above your upper teeth, as if you were to make an “N” sound.
Jaw: Your teeth should be slightly apart or gently resting together, not clenching.
One quick note about the “N” position of the tongue. Actively placing the tongue in this position can be a powerful technique to use to reduce jaw muscle tension and clenching. If you are having jaw pain, try pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth in the “N” position.
Here are some other posture elements that are important for jaw rest:
Avoid resting your head by putting your hand on your jaw. This puts pressure on the jaw muscles and makes them work harder.
Don’t slouch! When you are slouching, your head hangs forward and your jaw needs to exert constant muscle tone to keep it in place.
Try to sleep on your back or sides without resting your jaw on your arm.
TMJ Mouth Guards
TMJ mouth guards, sometimes called intraoral devices or splints, are powerful tools for jaw pain relief. “With active jaw pain, a guarding reflex occurs where the jaw muscles become tense and hyperactive. This muscle tension only makes the pain cycle worse. In this situation, intraoral splints are among the most powerful tools at our disposal to stop muscle tension and promote jaw rest”, explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an orofacial pain specialist.
While there are many mouth guards out there, the best TMJ mouth guard for jaw rest is the anterior bite splint. Anterior bite splits (like the QuickSplint) are custom fit to the anterior teeth, leaving the back teeth uncovered. By preventing the back teeth from contacting each other, the clenching reflex is relieved. This promotes rapid jaw muscle relaxation and jaw rest.
The anterior bite splint is also ‘permissive’ by design, meaning that the upper jaw and lower jaw are allowed to slide over each other smoothly so the joint “seats itself” in the most comfortable position. Anterior bite splints are sometimes called “anterior deprogrammers” because they allow jaw muscles that are ‘programmed’ to be tense because of the guarding reflex to relax or ‘deprogram’. This brings the entire TMJ complex back into balance.
TMJ Diet Guidelines
The key to a TMJ diet is knowing what to eat and how to eat it. As you would imagine, the best foods for jaw rest are soft foods. Here are some TMJ friendly foods that are soft and delicious.
Fruits: Avocado, applesauce, berries, bananas, to name a few.
Grains: Oatmeal, soft breads, pastas, polenta.
Vegetables: Most veggies are good if they are cooked until soft.
Proteins: Protein shakes, fish, tofu, yogurt, eggs, and beans.
Equally important in terms of jaw rest is to avoid certain food textures. This includes anything hard or anything chewy. It also means avoiding chewing gum, biting your fingernails, or chewing on pen caps or toothpicks.
Your eating technique is also part of the optimal TMJ diet. You want your food to be in small morsels, so that you don’t have to stretch your jaw to eat it. You want to chew your food evenly, being vigilant to use both sides of your jaw. Finally, you want to try to eat mindfully, which means eating slowly and with purpose, paying attention to the flavors and textures of each bite.
Jaw Pain Relief
Treating acute jaw pain is critical in preventing the development of a chronic TMJ pain disorder. Jaw rest is an important part of any TMJ self-care program, but there are other measures that you can use to achieve jaw pain relief. These include oral splint therapy, using hot and cold packs on the jaw, using self-directed pain management techniques, and taking over-the-counter analgesics.
The Speed2Treat Home Healing Kit was specifically developed to give you everything you need to achieve rapid jaw pain relief. This includes the QuickSplint, an anterior bite splint that you can make at home and start using on the same day as delivery. Start your journey towards effective TMJ self-care and jaw pain relief today!