Temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly known as TMJ, is a painful condition that affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. It can cause a range of symptoms, including jaw pain, difficulty chewing, clicking or popping sounds when opening the mouth, and headaches. While the exact cause of TMJ is not always clear, certain foods have been known to trigger symptoms in some people.
In this blog, we’ll explore the relationship between TMJ and food, including which foods to avoid and which foods may be helpful in managing symptoms.
Foods to avoid with TMJ
If you have TMJ, there are certain foods that you may want to avoid or limit to help manage your symptoms. These include:
- Hard, crunchy, or chewy foods: Foods that require a lot of chewing or that are hard to bite into can put strain on the jaw joint and exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Examples of these types of foods include popcorn, nuts, hard candy, and chewy candy.
- Sticky or gummy foods: Similar to hard and crunchy foods, sticky or gummy foods require a lot of chewing and can strain the jaw joint. Examples of these types of foods include caramel, taffy, and gum.
- Large bites of food: Taking large bites of food can also put strain on the jaw joint and worsen TMJ symptoms. Instead, try cutting your food into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
- Foods that require a lot of jaw movement: Certain foods, such as corn on the cob or ribs, require a lot of jaw movement to eat. These types of foods can put extra strain on the jaw joint and exacerbate TMJ symptoms.
- Foods high in salt: Consuming foods that are high in salt can cause inflammation in the body, which can worsen TMJ symptoms. Try to limit your intake of salty foods, such as potato chips and pretzels.
- Foods high in sugar: Consuming foods that are high in sugar can also cause inflammation in the body, which can worsen TMJ symptoms. Additionally, sugary foods can cause tooth decay and cavities, which can also contribute to jaw pain. Try to limit your intake of sugary foods, such as candy and soda.
- Foods that are difficult to swallow: If you have TMJ, you may also experience difficulty swallowing. Foods that are difficult to swallow, such as large pieces of meat or tough vegetables, can exacerbate this symptom.
While it may be difficult to avoid all of these foods completely, limiting your intake can help manage TMJ symptoms and reduce pain.
Foods that may help with TMJ
In addition to avoiding certain foods, there are also foods that may be helpful in managing TMJ symptoms. These include:
- Soft foods: Eating soft foods, such as mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs, can help reduce strain on the jaw joint and make eating more comfortable.
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation and pain in the body. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, as well as flaxseed and chia seeds.
- Foods rich in vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for bone health and may also help reduce inflammation in the body. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods, such as milk and orange juice.
- Foods rich in magnesium: Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function and may also help reduce pain. Foods that are rich in magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains.
- Foods rich in calcium: Calcium is important for bone health and may also help reduce pain. Foods that are rich in calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods, such as tofu and orange juice.
Foods, Vitamins and Drinks that are Helpful for TMJ Treatment
- Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with TMJ. Try adding fresh ginger to smoothies or tea, or using ginger in cooking.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is another spice with anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce pain and inflammation. Try adding turmeric to soups, stews, or smoothies.
- Green tea: Green tea contains compounds called catechins, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with TMJ.
- Water: Staying hydrated is important for overall health and may also help reduce TMJ symptoms. Aim to drink at least 8 cups of water per day.
While these foods may be helpful in managing TMJ symptoms, it’s important to note that everyone’s body is different. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.
Other Tips for Managing TMJ
In addition to dietary changes, there are other tips that may be helpful in managing TMJ symptoms. These include:
- Applying heat or cold: Applying a warm or cold compress to the jaw can help reduce pain and inflammation. Try using a warm, damp towel or a cold pack wrapped in a towel.
- Relaxation techniques: Stress and tension can worsen TMJ symptoms. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, may help reduce stress and tension in the body.
- Jaw exercises: Gentle jaw exercises, such as opening and closing the mouth or moving the jaw from side to side, may help improve jaw mobility and reduce pain.
- Avoiding clenching or grinding: Clenching or grinding the teeth can worsen TMJ symptoms. If you’re prone to clenching or grinding, try to be mindful of when you’re doing it and take steps to reduce the behavior, such as wearing a mouthguard at night.
- Seeking professional treatment: If your TMJ symptoms are severe or are interfering with your daily life, it may be helpful to seek professional treatment. This may include physical therapy, medication, or in some cases, surgery.
In conclusion, while there is no one specific food that causes TMJ, certain foods can trigger symptoms in some people. By avoiding or limiting these trigger foods and incorporating foods that may help manage symptoms, such as soft foods, omega-3 fatty acids, and ginger, you may be able to reduce pain and discomfort associated with TMJ. It’s also important to practice other techniques, such as applying heat or cold, practicing relaxation techniques, and avoiding clenching or grinding, to manage TMJ symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or interfering with your daily life, seek professional treatment from a healthcare provider.
TMJ Treatment by Dr. Nojan Bakhtiari
Dr. Nojan Bakhtiari is a board-certified TMJ and Oral Facial Pain specialist. He focuses his practice on TMJ disorders, oral pain, facial pain and associated headaches. He treats patients in New York City. His practice is conveniently located in midtown Manhattan three blocks from Grand Central Terminal and Bryant Park.
Assistant Clinical Professor, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine
Treasurer and Committee Chair, NYU Dentistry Alumni Association
Diplomate, American Board of Orofacial Pain
Fellow, American Academy of Orofacial Pain
Chair of Membership Committee, American Academy of Orofacial Pain
Dr. Nojan shares his in-depth knowledge of the TMJ, oral and facial pain as Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. He taught for 5 years at Yale-New Haven Hospital as a clinical attending and course director. He is one of very few diplomates of the American Board of Orofacial Pain and a Fellow of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain.
As an expert in the field, he has been invited to lecture at New York University, New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, New York State Dental Association, Woodhull Hospital, Lincoln Medical Center, and numerous dental societies and conferences (including Greenwich and Stamford Dental Societies, New Haven Dental Association, Connecticut Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, New England Dental Society Annual Meeting).