Natural Health Blog

3 Ways to Decrease TMJ Dysfunction - That Worked For Me!

TMJ Dysfunction is a big problem - for LOTS of people. You are not alone.

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint and many people just refer to the disorder as "TMJ".

This joint is where the jaw bone (mandible), the temporal bones (bones beneath the ears) and the outer portion of the cheek bones (zygomatic process), in very simple terms - intersect. A close neighbor to these bones is the sphenoid bone, an important bone that cradles the pituitary gland, the gland that calls the shots with regard to hormone production. There is way more to the anatomy for sure - it's beyond my understanding of physiology frankly - but what I do know is that these bones take a beating - and they are very important to health.

With chewing, talking, emotional/mental stress, gritting, grinding - lord help us if we get into an accident - and are violently jarred or worse, child birth itself is hard on these bones as the birth canal imparts great pressure on the head; and I'm sure there are many more situations that add stress to these bones. The reasons you grind your teeth may be many. I know mine are. 

How it was then:

I didn't grind my teeth until I was in my late twenties; sadly I can link it to a specific event. I lost my brother in a car accident in 2008 and that was the tipping point - after that event, I noticed that I was grinding my teeth at night. 

Over the course of the next 7 years, the grinding at night was slowly getting more intense; I found myself grinding during the day too. The insane pressure was causing clicking in my jaw, headaches, neck problems, teeth problems, pain, tension, inability to open and close my mouth, aggravation, not-so restful sleep and a lot of terrible mornings.

Does any of that sound familiar?

The human jaw is NO JOKE - one website I looked at said that the human jaw delivers over 200 lbs of pressure on the back molars. Sheesh! There are varying estimates from 100 to 265 lbs. But if it's 100 or 200 lbs - it's too much to inflict 8 hours a night indefinitely.

So - yeah! it's crazy! - And on that note; let's get into it! 

How it is NOW.

Now I don't grind my teeth. I might do it 1 maybe 2 nights per week if I'm doing what doesn't work, but most of the time - not at all. In the day, I don't  clench. My range of motion is almost normal, no clicking of the jaw. I can chomp into a massive hamburger with ease - just like the old days. There are still some bad days where I wake up and say - yikes! "Is that what my head felt like like everyday, just one year ago????" Yep, it sure did. But not anymore. 

How I Did It:

I Eliminated Daily Consumption of Caffeine: 

I know you don't want to hear this friends but removing mass-quantities of caffeine was a big game changer.

Last March I was at my wits end with my grinding and I went to see my Naturopath Suzy Sikora of Fenton Acupuncture Clinic. She broke it to me gently - caffeine winds up your nervous system. It's a drug! It feels good - LORD does it feel good. But it's adding gasoline to the fire of my already aggravated tissues in my head, neck and jaw. I needed to cut the caffeine out if I wanted to cure my TMJ disorder. Period.

And I cried! Man, I cried. I was so bummed. I've given up so much! Smoking, drinking (I'm almost 2 years sober) and now this??? I was MAD! I was CRYING OVER COFFEE! Ha - well luckily Suzy is also a hypnotherapist. She hypnotized me to not choose daily regular coffee and from my perspective, it worked. I have not consumed daily caffeine since March of 2014. And that was my turning point with my TMJ - thank goodness. 

I still drink coffee - I freakin love coffee! Organic Decaf at home most days. And I enjoy coffee whenever I want at restaurants - I just always order decaf now. If I do have the tiniest bit of regular coffee it's one of those 1 ounce shots from the Trader Joes Free Samples - and WOW does it send me over the moon! I swear I don't know how I drank cups and cups of it daily before; because 1 ounce has me totally buzzing!

If your TMJ disorder is bad enough - you'll do anything. And I was done. I had to try something, and it worked. It took a few months for me to realize that it was actually improving so stick with it. Once I knew better, I had to do better for myself.  If you really want to get better, try abstaining from regular coffee for 8 weeks. This is my humble advice to you!

-------> NEXT! Oil Pulling with Organic Cold Pressed Coconut Oil

Oil pulling with coconut oil wasn't a new thing to me. I tried it for a while back in 2012 briefly. It didn't stick though and I wasn't doing it for long enough OR doing it daily. This is key to it's effectiveness - at least at first. 

I started regularly oil pulling in June or July of 2014. I did it everyday, for 20 minutes using about a tablespoon of coconut oil per session. I usually oil pull while I'm running around the house getting ready in the morning OR at night before bed.

Oil pulling is simply the act of swishing with oil in your mouth. Use 1 tbsp & begin swishing for 15 minutes per day, then increase to 20 minutes. Swish & spit it out! Try to not swallow any. 

What was interesting to me is HOW it worked.

What I first noticed was massive amounts of mucus coming out of my sinus cavity - YES, gross but true. I would get done pulling and be sitting on the couch and all the sudden have to cough up a major phlegm globber out of no where! Yikes!! 

I soon after got a bit of a cold, but it was an unusual cold for me; it was the middle of the summer for one thing. And my ear was plugged up (my right side only, which is my harder grinding side), and so I naturally treated the cold, cut out dairy to dry up my ears and in a week or so I was fine. After that, I knew I had to do less dairy - my ear was so plugged up I could hardly hear for the entire week when I was out on Cape Cod for vacation - It sucked! 

But I digress...

Soon the phlegm became less and less frequent until it stopped completely - and I continued to pull; I really grew to like it. I feel like it strengthened the musculature in my jaw as well as pulled out impurities that were contributing to the inflamed state.

Oil Pulling helped my TMJ - Try it, it's supposed to whiten your teeth (I think perhaps it might be doing that for me), and it also helps to keep the gums, teeth and even your sinuses healthy. What do you have to lose but perhaps some nasty mucus? lol

The 3rd & Perhaps Most Significant Practice for Improving My

TMJ Dysfunction Seems Like it Would Be Unrelated - 

Night Time Eating.

Yes, I know - total bummer, right? BELIEVE ME I AGREE! Nighttime snacking, I've come to realize - REALLY disturbs your sleep patterns. And it makes sense. The body is busy trying to do other things during sleep - like clean out your liver, filter and cleanse the blood via the kidneys, process all the food you ate from the previous day, breaking it down, assimilating that nutrition, moving stool through the large intestine etc. 

More food at night after 9:00pm gives the body - bluntly put - more shit to do when it needs to focus on it's regularly schedule maintenance work.

It's like my body is a mechanic - it's got it's normal oil changes to do, tire rotations etc - but when you come into the dealership and demand that he flush the transmission, fix a flat tire and detail the car - the mechanic gets pissed! He's got too much to do, and not enough time to do it - thus the grind, the disturbed sleep, and the crappy mornings. 

So I determined a 9:00pm cut-off because I often don't get to sleep before midnight or later. If you go to bed at 11:00pm, I'd say don't eat after 8:00pm. This gives your body a solid 3-4 hours of digestion time, before you sleep and the "mechanic" begins his nightly duties. As hard as it is to not snack at night - with even a healthy snack like carrots or kale chips - do your best cut back 5 nights a week as an experiment. Your body simply doesn't need the food to process at that time.

How I get by - I drink Tea. 

I mean - shoot - I probably drink like 5-6 cups of tea from my little teapot each night. Ginger tea, Peppermint Tea, Holy Basil by Organic India is good. I like Nighty Night Tea by Traditional Medicinals Brand also. Obviously no caffeinated teas and skip the decaffeinated teas too - they are often made using harmful solvents for the decaffeination process. If you're busy drinking, it will take your mind off of how you totally want to devour that bag of rice chips. 

Do I do it perfectly every night?

Heck no! I'm so, so, so, human - it's ridiculous. But over time these are what have made the most impact on my TMJ dysfunction. That I no longer have.

So let me bullet point for you the other factors.

These are little things (or massively big things) that I've done or changed over the last 6 years to improve my TMJ disorder, to mitigate the symptoms and to protect my teeth. 

Here of my favorite Craniosacral Teachers Eric Moya demonstrates CST mouth work. 

Here of my favorite Craniosacral Teachers Eric Moya demonstrates CST mouth work. 

  • I got a custom made bite splint (I used it for 2 years and then stopped), I felt like it was making things worse by giving me something to bit on - and at some point I never went back to using it.I was determined to stop grinding, not just protect my teeth. 
  • I get Craniosacral Therapy (CST) - and in 2013 I got probably about 1 session per month. I specifically recommend going to see someone that knows how to do the Craniosacral Therapy mouth work. Yes, The Therapist will stick their gloved hand into your mouth and release bones like the hard palate, palatines, and vomer bone. These are necessary to relieve pressure generated from all that grinding. Now I do a combination of CST, energy work, reflexology, chiropractic care, massage and acupuncture. Whatever I feel like doing at the time. Explore and see what you like!  Commit to 1 session per month as this will help to settle down your nervous system and relax the musculature. It will also kick in your innate ability to heal. 
  • I watch my sugar intake all the time - this affects my grinding but also my general level of bodily inflammation. Refined sugar inflames, ages and destroys the tissues - not just the teeth. Find other things that are sweet like dates, maple syrup, honey or stevia sweetened treats and of course completely avoid artificial sweeteners like splenda, sweet and low, equal and anything with saccharine in it. These are ALL poison. 
  • I began to address my emotions in a healthy way. With therapy, through body work and my yoga practice; I started trying to understand emotions that were contributing to my grind. Anger, frustration and sadness. 
  • I quit drinking alcohol. Not to say that this is for everyone of course - it's extreme. But I needed to do it if I was going to be the type of practitioner that I knew I could be - It had to happen. It lost it's fun and it no longer worked for me. Alcohol of course has a lot of sugar in it which also contributes to the inflamed condition of the body, and because the majority of drinking is going on at night - it gives the "mechanic" more tasks to do - which he hates. 
  • I do yoga. I go through phases of doing it every day to doing it only a few times a week. Find some sort of schedule that works for you. Do relaxing yoga, breath focused yoga at least 1 time a week to help to encourage you nervous system to settle down.
  • I take magnesium. I like the Natures Sunshine Magnesium Tablets (250 mg per tablet). I take 3-4 at night before bed. Magnesium relaxes the muscles, helps you have better bowel movements, helps you sleep and enhances your absorption of calcium. There are herbs that have rich magnesium sources too - Like Oatstraw Tea, Peppermint and Chamomile herbal teas. Purchase them all organically. Drink 3-5 cups of these teas per day for a medicinal does. 

What's working for your TMJ dysfunction? Share the love below!