TMJ: How to Treat it and Manage Your Stress

TMJ: How to Treat it and Manage Your Stress

Temporomandibular joint disorder…

Uhhh… say what?

Photo Source

TMJ is Temporomandibular joint disorder. Try saying that 5 times fast!
It started with a sore throat, grew into a bad ear ache and the next thing I knew I was in so much (CONSTANT) pain I had stopped eating. When all was said and done I lost 5 lbs.
Initially I thought it was just an infection. Doctor #1 agreed and quickly prescribed amoxicillin. So I took the medicine faithfully and just waited, hoping the pain would start to dull. Hoping it would stop hurting when I smiled; when I talked. Unfortunately the amoxicillin messed with my sugar (as the doctor said it might with the whole hypoglycemia problem – no I swear I’m not a hypochondriac!) and I about fainted 3 different times. No bueno 🙁 So here I was needing to eat to combat the nausea/dizziness caused by the amoxicillin and yet I could barely bring myself to drink chicken broth!
…Bring on Doctor #2. This man who I was initially skeptical of looked in my ear and said, “You don’t have an ear infection whatsoever. Your ear looks completely normal.” WHAT?!! I wanted to burst into tears (for about the 5th time). Here I had been laying on heating pads, taking ibuprofen and amoxicillin, missing way too much work and I was NOWHERE close to being better. I just wanted some relief! Just for 5 minutes. The pain would simply not cease.
He said he believed it to be TMJ and so we went over my symptoms and some of those of TMJ:

Difficulty chewing or biting? Yup
Clicking Jaw? My jaw has done that for as long as I can remember
Neck/Jaw pain? Yes, well now that you mention it…
Earache without infection? Well… evidently yes!
Headache? I’d had a horrible one every morning this week

Combine these symptoms with the thought in the back of my mind: “I know I clench my jaw while I’m sleeping… I always wondered if that was bad.” It looks like TMJ was the culprit. Doctor #2 gave me some muscle anti-inflamitories and sent me on my way. Unfortunately this still wasn’t enough. I ended up at the Dentist the next day where they fit me for a mouth guard (way too expensive but at least it’s not giant, as dorky, or as obtrusive) and gave me muscle relaxants. And there the relief finally started. I honestly hate taking medicine but it wasn’t until I was prescribed muscle relaxants that I was truly able to sleep and relax myself.

So what is the lesson in this story, kiddos? Okay, yes don’t clench your jaw. I now have to do fun jaw exercises in the morning and stick my tongue between my teeth before bed so as to prevent clenching. But what brought all of this on?


Sure I knew I was busy. Working full time and going to school. But I didn’t think it was that bad. However as I think about it I realize that I have the tendency to manifest stress in my body. When I took the ACT in high school I all of the sudden developed a back problem. I couldn’t look down (touch my chin to my chest) without extreme pain in my neck. Yes a class I had been taking had provided me with some extra worrying and frustration (w/ the teacher) but I didn’t think it was that bad.
So what’s the lesson we can learn from this? It is important to keep your health in check and manage your stress effectively. I decided there are 3 ways for me to approach this:

1. Get Moving! (exercise)
2. Pray More
3. Take it one day at a time

When I get home from work and then finish an assignment admittedly the last thing I feel like doing is exercising. However when I do exercise I notice I just feel better. Like I was able to run all that stress and frustration and worry right out of my body! So whether it’s running, using the elliptical, or doing something you simply enjoy like basketball, tennis, golf etc, get moving! Exercise helps you to cope with the stress and my personal favorite, sleep better.

Pray more. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said that when we do not have time to pray we should pray more. I believe this is an important component of managing stress because prayer helps us to develop better self-introspection and also reliance upon God. When you take the time to talk to God and open up about your worries and doubts God will listen and bring you peace. If you don’t believe me simply stop right now and think about something that is plaguing your thoughts. Offer it up to God. Feel better? Yeah, me too. God will never give us more than we can handle!
Take one thing at a time! As I sit here and write this blog I should really take my own advice. I feel absolutely overwhelmed with everything I have to cram in for this class before the end of the semester. Another module worksheet, an unexpected paper (it’s a long, bad story), and the final from HELL! Take a deep breath. One thing at a time! What takes top priority? Tackle this first and then move on to the next thing. Make a list and feel the gratification as you place a big red check mark next to one of the items.
And lastly, some tips on how to treat TMJ:

-De-stress… however possible, find a way to relax! Take a bubble bath, get a massage, or as I said before: pray more!
-Alternate between a heating pad and an ice pack. This really brought relief and the different sensations soothed my jaw.
-To be honest, I didn’t get relief until I saw a dentist and they gave me muscle relaxants. No this isn’t the best advice but if your pain is bad enough it’s causing you to miss a lot of work then go see someone! Tell them how bad it is.
I hope my story and pieces of advice help anyone out the suffering from TMJ or just plain stress! The moral of the story? Take care of yourself!