How to Heal Your TMJ Holistically

If you experience symptoms of TMD (temporal-mandibular joint dysfunction) , I really feel you. I had the worst jaw symptoms for about 10 years before I was able to finally find lasting relief!

TMD is qualified by the following set of symptoms:

  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth

  • Pain and tenderness around the TMJ (jaw), in the face, neck, shoulders, around the ear

  • Pain when you chew, speak, kiss, or open your mouth wide

  • Joint clicking or popping, often upon opening the mouth.

  • A jaw that gets stuck or locks in the open or closed position

  • Trouble chewing

  • Trouble biting down, as if the upper and lower jaw do not fit together properly

  • Facial swelling

Personally, my largest struggles were:

  • Not being able to open my mouth wide enough to eat

  • Not being able to chew my food properly

  • Loud and painful popping in my jaw joint

  • Grinding my teeth during sleep

These symptoms drove me wild for a long time! I’ve also found them very common in my yoga therapy clients who have a history of anxiety and trauma. There is a direct connection between our stress levels and pain in the body.

Many people think there is nothing you can do about TMD, and it’s something you just have to live with. That’s what I believed, especially after meeting with dental experts and body workers. I felt like there was no hope!

When I went to my dentist to talk about the symptoms they gave me a mouth guard, which helped symptomatically with the grinding and inflammation in the joint but did little to influence the actual cause of the issue.

Then, I was given an oral orthotic to re-align the placement of my jaw. I really thought this would help, but it ended up making my symptoms worse and driving my jaw into even further displacement.

I tried a new dentist. She suggested I give invisalign a try. So, I did. After about a year of moving my teeth and forcing my bite into a new position, I realized that the invisalign weren’t doing any good either. In fact, my symptoms continued to worsen!

It was clear to me that the dentist was not going to be my savior, and that I needed to take matters into my own hands. I am so grateful for my background with body arts to help support this journey of recovery.

Today, I experience no jaw pain. I can open my mouth fully, with no clicking or popping. I rarely grind my teeth at night, with the exception of days when I am under high amounts of stress. My facial shape and structure has completely altered. I wish I had before and after photos to share with you, because to me the results were dramatic!

And, in this blog post I’m sharing how I managed to make so much progress in such a rapid amount of time.

Body Imbalance.png

Before we dive in, it’s important to have a broad understanding of why we develop TMD in the first place:

  • Physically, TMD is from:

    • Chewing solely on one side of the mouth

    • The muscles that close the mouth have become stronger than the muscles that open the mouth

    • Braces and rubber bands torquing the jaw into misalignment

    • Contact injuries (such as a car crash or bad fall)

    • Holding the mouth open for too wide and long at the dentist

    • Hip/low back issues and imbalances (see image to the right) - SOURCE

    • Forward head posture

  • Pyscho-emotionally, TMD is from:

    • Chronically swallowing your words

    • Suppressing emotions (specifically around self expression and communication)

    • Having a history of verbal abuse or gaslighting

    • Throat chakra imbalance

    • Anxiety, worry, and stress

Let’s look a little closure at the main postural causes, and what you can do about them

  1. Forward head posture: most everyone I meet has forward head posture to some extent. This is usually a product of sedentary living combined with the overuse of cell phones. We gradually draw our heads forward, meanwhile pulling our jaw further back into the skull (see image to the right). I suggest visiting a good chiropractor to help with your neck alignment in combination with the practices below.

  2. SI Joint imbalances: When our hips are imbalanced, this ripples up the entire spine affecting the level of the shoulders and placement of the jaw. If you stand in front of the mirror, place your hands on your hips, and notice that one side is higher than the other OR if tend to have low back/SI joint pain, you may want to schedule a consult with a therapist, chiropractor, or bodyworker to support the imbalance from a holistic body perspective.

  3. Chewing on only one side: This strengthens muscles on only one side of the face, and pulls the jaw over toward the side we mainly chew with.

How to heal TMD

Note: Only do the following practices that seem to help. Avoid any practices that cause more pain or displace your jaw. Depending on your severity, you will want to start slow and gradually build.

  • Wear your mouth guard and baby your jaw for the time being: While you are healing, it’s important to continue reducing inflammation by not opening the mouth past the “popping” point and wearing a mouthguard to decrease joint inflammation. This will support and speed up your healing process.

  • Stretch the frontal neck muscles (this stretch was a life-saver for me!):

    • Lift the chin up, purse your lips, and try to kiss the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat 2-3 times.

    • Repeat on the left and right sides: with the chin up, turn the chin slightly to the left. Purse the lips and try to kiss the left side of the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.

  • Stretch the sides of the neck:

    • Reach your left arm out 45 degrees and drop your right ear to your right shoulder.

    • Hold for 5 deep breaths. Switch sides.

  • Stretch & release the tongue:

    • Lift the chin up and stick the tongue out of the mouth. Reach the tip of the tongue up toward the ceiling.

    • Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat 2-3 times.

    • Repeat on the left and right sides: with the chin up, turn the chin slightly to the left. Stick the tongue out and reach the tip of the tongue to the left side of the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.

  • Strengthen muscles that open the jaw:

    • Bring both hands to fists.

    • Place them beneath the jaw.

    • Slide the jaw slightly forward. Just a few centimeters is fine.

    • Press the jaw down onto the fists, like you’re trying to open the mouth.

    • Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat 2-3 times.

  • Pull the earlobes:

    • Grab a hold of your earlobes and pull outward at 45 degrees to help decompress muscles surrounding the ear. This is a great practice for headaches as well!

  • Massage the masseter muscles:

    • Bring both hands to the sides of the jaw, over the masseter muscles (the soft space in front of the jaw bone).

    • Press the hands in and massage in a circular motion.

    • Work the hands up, down, left, and right. Follow where your muscles feel the tightest to release.

Pterygoind muscle.jpg
  • Massage the pterygoid muscles:

    • This is a funky massage technique of the inner mouth muscles. The pterygoid can be found on the roof of the mouth, a little further back than the final molar. See the image to the right for a visual.

    • Press up with your thumbs into this spot. Hold for a few seconds and repeat a few times.

  • Chew on both sides of the mouth, or your non-dominant side: When you eat your meals, pay special attention to which side of the mouth you favor for chewing. Balance yourself out by temporarily favoring the other side, or by chewing on both sides simultaneously.

  • Reduce stress levels before bed: take a hot epsom salt bath, journal, or meditate. Be sure you feel relaxed before going to sleep to avoid teeth grinding at night.

  • Consider limiting your intake of caffeine, sugar, and inflammatory foods: These foods can increase pain and tension in the body. Eliminating them from your diet can help to decrease your symptoms.

We’d love to hear from you! Have these practices helped with your TMD symptoms? Are there any other healing suggestions you’d like to leave our community? Leave your comments below.

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