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10 TMJ Disorder Tips from a Physical Therapist

Editor’s note: I’m excited to bring you our first guest post on TMJ Hope. We’re always looking for interested patients, professionals, and others to tell their stories. If you would like to guest post on TMJ Hope, please contact me! Without further ado…. our first guest! Cynthia is an experienced physical therapist, and author of the book, “The TMJ Healing Plan: Ten Steps to Relieving Headaches, Neck Pain, and Jaw Disorders.”

TMJ Tips from a Physical Therapist1. Less is Best
I agree with the National Institute of Health (and TMJ Hope!) who say, “Less is often best in treating TMJ Disorders”. You would be wise to explore your safe, conservative, reversible and cost-effective options before making any permanent changes to your bite, undergoing surgery, or spending exorbitant sums of money.
2. Posture
I feel that trying to treat your head, neck and jaw without addressing your posture would be like giving you a car without any tires. If your posture is out of balance or alignment, it can adversely impact your jaw, neck and head. You need to address your posture in sitting, standing and sleeping. My patients with the worst jaw joints are often those who sleep on their stomach or on their side with their hand or arm pressing on their face. Try sleeping on your back. You could benefit from seeing a specialized orthopedic physical therapist to help you evaluate your posture and alignment. Many patients with TMJ Disorders don’t realize they have loose joints and hyperextend their knees. If your joints are loose you need to learn to unlock your knees and protect and stabilize your joints including your jaw.
Read more TMJ tips from Cynthia…

3. Tongue
If your tongue works and rests correctly, it can help you separate your teeth and relax your jaw. Your tongue should gently rest along the roof of your mouth like when you make a “cluck” sound. If your tongue wants to push against your front teeth at rest, in speech or swallowing, you likely need to tone and retrain it, on your own, with your PT, or with a speech language pathologist specially trained in tongue thrust and swallowing disorders.
4. Swallowing
You swallow between 500 and 2,000 times a day. If you are swallowing incorrectly you may be contracting muscles that shouldn’t have to be on the job and thrusting your tongue every time you swallow. Learn to be a swallowing superstar.
5. Breathing
Breathing should be through your nose and diaphragm and is normally 12-16 breaths per minute. Most of the patients I see are rapid chest breathers. Learning to breathe can also calm muscles and help you switch gears from a stressful “fight flight” to a restful relaxed state.
6. Teeth Apart
Your teeth should only touch momentarily when you swallow in the back. Otherwise they should never touch. Common postures and even medications can cause clenching.
7. Lips Together
“Our Lips are Sealed” is not only a song, but a healthy way to help your jaw relax and keep your tongue gently suctioned on the roof of your mouth. Some people have short upper lips and have difficulty closing their lips. These people can benefit from some stretches and exercises to make it easier.
8. Calm Your Muscles and Your Mind
Tight and tender muscles are one of the biggest contributors to headaches, neck pain and jaw disorders. Muscles can even cause headaches, ear pain, dizziness, ringing in the ear, and even tooth pain (along with jaw pain!). It is critical you gain a better understanding of what irritates and relaxes your muscles. Our minds and physical bodies are intricately connected. Mental stress and a nervous system that is stuck in high gear must also be managed.
9. Avoid Over-Opening
Yawning is only one of the activities that can cause you to over open your jaw. Try keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth as you yawn to stop you from opening too far. Understanding the basic anatomy of your jaw joints, how they work and how to care for them is vital for success.
10. Avoid Extra Pressure on Your Jaws
Just like your shoes wear out the more you run around in them, your jaw joints are subject to similar wear and tear. Overuse and abuse of your joints, including your jaws, can wear them down. Hurtful habits like sleeping on your stomach, resting your chin on your hand, holding the phone to your shoulder, singing, eating, excessive talking are only a few of the ways we unwittingly wear down our joints. As you learn to replace hurtful habits with healthy ones, you can set the stage for health and wellness (and hopefully, less jaw pain!).

TMJ Healing Plan: Ten Steps to Relieving Headaches, Neck Pain, & Jaw DisordersCynthia Peterson is physical therapist in Utah, who has been treating TMJ disorder for over 20 years. She is the author of The TMJ Healing Plan: Ten Steps to Relieving Headaches, Neck Pain, & Jaw Disorders.

Important Note: This information does not replace a thorough evaluation by a medical professional. It is always advisable to check with your physician or licensed health care professional before starting any exercise, stretching or self-management program.
Content is excerpted (or adapted) from The TMJ Healing Plan © 2010 by Cynthia Peterson and published by Hunter House Publishers.

3 thoughts on “10 TMJ Disorder Tips from a Physical Therapist”

  1. This is VERY interesting.  I never realized my tongue shouldn’t rest against the back of my teeth.   After jaw surgery my jaw was like jello – I didn’t know where it should rest, so I just kind-a made due.  13 years later my jaw has settled into a spot where my teeth sit on top of each other all day, with my tongue on my teeth.  Its a minute to minute struggle to keep my teeth apart…!
    Thank you for this article.  Very informative!

  2. I am getting differing opinion from physical therapists and my TMJ specialist about using iontophoresis for my tmj.  The specialist says to get this done but the PTs are hesitant and/or refuse to perform the technique saying patients don’t tolerate it well.  I would much rather try this approach of getting cortisone to my joints than having the tmj specialist insert a needle in my joint.  Could you please elaborate on this treatment.  I have had people tell me that iontophoresis did not hurt them.

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