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Foods to Eat (And Avoid) If Your Jaw Aches

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People who struggle with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder are aware of how uncomfortable it may be to chew some foods. 

There are several TMJ treatment options available to help relieve the pain from TMJ disorders (TMD). Self-care is vital to speed up the healing process and part of treating TMJ is adjusting your diet. Making dietary changes can help reduce symptoms and prevent episodes of TMJ. 


What is TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint where the upper and lower jaws converge. TMJ disorder, or TMD, is a prevalent chronic jaw disorder. People who experience TMJ have a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, ear pain, cracking noises or loud popping when chewing or yawning, and limited jaw movement. As a result, it makes eating uncomfortable. TMJ is a condition that may need both medical intervention and self-care routines. You can change your diet to ensure that you get the nutrition you need. 

The effect of food on TMJ

Chewing puts pressure on your TMJ and the muscles for chewing. Reducing the amount of chewing and force used when chewing allows those joints and muscles to rest and heal. TMJ can make it difficult to eat a nutritious and balanced diet, which is necessary for overall health. Therefore, you need to practice the right eating habits to prevent flare-ups. People with TMJ should alter their diet to stay away from certain foods that make their condition worse. Here are some foods to avoid, as well as foods to include in your TMJ diet.

Foods to avoid

The constant movement of your jaw can make your TMJ pain worse. Here are certain foods and drinks you should avoid to improve your TMJ symptoms: 

When you drink coffee, your body’s muscles get dehydrated causing your muscles to tense up and make your TMD worse. 

  • Chewy foods

Chewy foods irritate the jaw joint since it takes a lot of pressure to break them down. When you eat tougher cuts of meat, chewing gum, taffy, caramel, bagels or delicacies like escargot, your jaw has to work extra hard. 

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  • Crunchy foods

Crunchy foods require a downward chewing movement and place additional pressure on the jaw joint. That’s why chewing crunchy foods like pretzels, popcorn, chips and other salty snack foods can be challenging. Hard vegetables like crunchy carrots and celery can also cause jaw pain because they require a strong bite. 

  • Large pieces of food

Your jaw can become overworked if you bite down on a sizable piece of food, especially when you eat thick bread like bagels or French bread, whole pieces of fruit like apples, large servings of fruit, or large chunks of any other food. Any food that requires the jaw to open wide and long repetitive chewing can be painful. The best option is to eat smaller, bite-sized pieces frequently. 

  • Fatty foods

Studies reveal that the fat content of various foods can cause increased inflammation in your body. Say no to red meat, fried foods, cream sauces, and pastries that tend to cause TMJ pain. Processed foods, such as those containing sugars, refined carbs, high fat and salt content, and trans-fats like margarine should also be eliminated from your diet to prevent flare-ups. 

Foods to Eat

The key to managing your TMD symptoms as best as you can is to get the required amounts of protein, vitamins, fiber and other nutrients while eating. Switch to a soft-food diet and consider its anti-inflammatory properties. Try taking nutritional supplements as well, especially if you lack proper nutrition. The following food recommendations can help you get started:

  • Soft foods

This doesn’t mean that it’s all purees and smoothies. A soft diet of scrambled eggs, yogurt, baked sweet potatoes and baked salmon are all tender and easy to chew. Meatballs, chicken, fish sticks, chickpeas, kale, spinach, squash and lentils are a few other examples of soft-cooked meals that can help boost nutrition while reducing TMJ pain. If your flare-up is extremely severe, you may want to switch to soups and smoothies but otherwise, avoiding hard foods is usually enough. 

  • Anti-inflammatory foods
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Increase your anti-inflammatory food intake in your diet to relieve TMJ pain. It’s important to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and beans. Fish that are rich in omega-3 acids, like mackerel and salmon, have antioxidant properties which can reduce inflammation and ease the pain as well. Ginger, turmeric, garlic and onion are also powerful anti-inflammatory foods that you can include in your regular cooking. 

•   Dairy foods

A soft diet makes it simple to consume dairy products, which can also be used to ensure that you are receiving adequate amounts of protein. You can eat soft cheeses like cottage cheese or cream cheese, drink milk, eat yogurt, ice cream and soft dairy desserts. Do not consume hard cheeses unless they are crumbled or melted. Avoid ice cream that has nuts or other hard bits. If you can’t eat protein foods or nut butter, consider alternatives such as meal replacement drinks (i.e. protein shakes and instant breakfast). 

  • Foods high in magnesium

Magnesium contains natural properties that are effective in relaxing your nervous system. This relaxing effect is a great way to release stress and tension from your muscles and joints. Dark leafy greens, avocados, dried fruit, lentils, bananas and nuts are some examples of foods rich in magnesium. However, be careful not to consume too much magnesium as it can lead to diarrhea. It is advised that only 300-400mg of magnesium per day should be included in your diet.

How to eat properly

Your eating habits are just as important as the foods that you eat, especially when TMJ pain flares up. 

  1. Choose a quiet and comfortable atmosphere when you eat.
  2. Avoid standing up or bending over while eating. 
  3. Never rush while eating; take your time. 
  4. If you have a busy schedule, give yourself at least 30 minutes to chew your food well.
  5. Eat in small portions frequently, rather than having three large meals a day. 
  6. Chew your food slowly and carefully. 
  7. Steer clear of foods that make you uncomfortable to chew. 
  8. Cut or finely chop meats and other tough foods into bite-sized pieces. 
  9. Fruits and vegetables with skins should be peeled. 
  10. Use a blender to puree or soften certain fruits and vegetables.

While some people only need slight dietary adjustments to recover, others frequently need very strict dietary changes. If you feel tired, you may need to increase your calorie intake. Develop the habit of paying attention to your food while eating; meaning paying attention to the eating process, chewing slowly and carefully, savoring the flavor and texture of the meal, and being in the moment while you’re eating. If you experience pain while eating, relax rather than resist it. Then refocus your attention on the flavor and texture of the food. 

How to prevent TMJ pain

A proper diet is vital for good health, including jaw joints and muscles. Pay attention to your body when deciding on the best dietary options. Aside from having a proper and healthy diet, you can take care of your jaw while performing your daily activities to avoid uncomfortable flare-ups. 

Constant TMJ pain isn’t something you should have to put up with. A holistic strategy is the most effective way to relieve TMJ pain. Make sure you aren’t doing any activity that hurts such as jaw clenching, nail biting, teeth grinding and yelling. When your jaw starts to ache, there are a few simple remedies you can do to ease the pain. Try doing TMJ exercises designed to relax, stretch and strengthen the jaw. Give yourself a facial massage to release tension on your jaw, temples and cheeks. The use of heat or cold may also be helpful. Heat aids in muscle relaxation while cold helps reduce discomfort and swelling. 

If you discover that your jaw hurts when you wake up in the morning, your dentist may recommend a custom mouthguard for you. It also helps you identify whether you need to wear a custom mouth guard at night. ClearClub offers one of the best treatment kits for TMJ to help you start healing immediately in the comfort of your own home.