Temporomandibular joint disorder (also known as TMJ), is what’s known as a system complex—an umbrella term used to describe pain and dysfunction originating from the temporomandibular joint like jaw, neck and ear pain along with migraine headaches. Unlike a broken arm, there isn’t one simple fix for TMJ. Treatments that work for some won’t work for others, and even finding simple pain relief can be difficult and frustrating for many. And while seeking treatment from a neuromuscular dentist can often lead to successful, long-lasting results, many just hope for short-term relief that can be applied at home or work.

In these cases, one of your best bets for reducing discomfort easily at home is a hot or cold pack.

Utilizing Heat and Cold for TMJ Pain

In a recent survey, researchers showed that nearly 65% of TMJ patients use hot or cold compresses to treat jaw pain symptoms at home — it works. A staggering 74% of TMJ patients that use a hot or cold compress say that it reduces the intensity of their symptoms. Jaw pain can be one of the tell-tale signs of TMJ, and many find that using a hot or cold pack was effective. Obviously, this is good news in terms of quick pain-relief. Packs are not only inexpensive, but are easy to keep in a medicine cabinet or freezer. In a pinch, you can even use a bag of frozen vegetables. And a rice sock is a great reusable heat source.

Whether heat or cold will help you more may depend on the source of your jaw pain. If you find that you experience swelling and inflammation, cold temperatures will be more effective treatment. But if your jaw pain stems from muscle pain or stiffness, heat will be a better bet.

How Do Hot and Cold Packs Help?

We know that hot and cold compresses can help treat TMJ pain — but how? The dynamics of heat therapy is pretty simple. Applying heat to muscles facilitates circulating, increasing blood flow, helping muscle flexibility, and even encourage healing. Heat therapy generally works best when used for longer periods of time, so don’t hesitate to apply heat to painful areas for twenty or more minutes to get better results. This can backfire if you’re trying to counter the effects of inflammation–swelling. Heat can cause more swelling, which can lead to more pain in some cases.

Cold therapy, on the other hand, works exactly the opposite of heat therapy. Cold limits blood flow to a specific area, which can very effectively reduce inflammation and swelling, particularly around a joint like the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. Cold can also reduce nerve activity, therefore relieving pain.

As opposed to heat therapy, cold therapy is most safely used for short periods. Exposing your skin to cold  for long periods of time can begin to damage nerves.

For long-term results, neither cold nor hot packs are effective at relieving pain, but what can help is scheduling a consultation with your dentist. After assessing your medical history, and taken measurements of your jaw, your dentist can suggest drug-free treatment designed to help your jaw begin to recover.

If you would like to learn more about TMJ treatment in Wilmington, NC, please call (910) 392-6060 or email Kuzma Advanced Dentistry.