If you suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder, called TMJ for short, you’re no stranger to jaw pain. Whether yours is uncomfortable or excruciating, intermittent or constant, jaw pain is a hallmark symptom of TMJ. And while TMJ treatment can help reduce or prevent pain on a larger scale, sometimes you’re just sitting at home or at work, wishing your jaw didn’t hurt. In those cases, one of your best bets for reducing discomfort easily at home is a hot or cold pack.

A man suffering from jaw pain

Heat and Cold for TMJ Pain

There’s a reason surveys show that 65% of TMJ patients use hot or cold compresses to treat jaw pain symptoms at home — it works. A staggering 74% of TMJ patients say that the use of hot or cold compresses reduced the intensity of their symptoms.

Not only are hot and cold packs effective against jaw pain, but they’re inexpensive and easy to keep around and use. You can keep a cold pack in your freezer at home or at work, or even just use a bag of frozen vegetables in a pinch. You can find affordable single-use or microwaveable hot compresses at your local drug store. You can even make your own reusable hot pack by putting rice in a sock or stocking. Using jasmine rice even makes it more fragrant, a sort of subtle aromatherapy.

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?

When it comes to heat therapy, the principle is simple: Applying heat to areas of the body facilitates improved circulation. Increasing blood flow to the area can help 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.

Despite the name “hot compress,” it’s generally best to aim for a warm temperature rather than a hot one when using heat therapy. A burn certainly won’t make you feel any better!

As for cold therapy, it works exactly opposite heat therapy: Cold limits blood flow to a specific area. This can be very effective at reducing inflammation and swelling, particularly around a joint like the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. Cold can also reduce nerve activity, therefore relieving pain. Because swelling can interfere with jaw function, cold packs can sometimes help a jaw that has limited opening or can’t close.

As opposed to heat therapy, cold therapy is most safely used repeatedly for short periods, rather than for long periods of time. Leaving a cold compress on your jaw for longer than fifteen or twenty minutes could start to cause some damage. Instead, try ten minute periods, several times a day.

Of course, home treatments for jaw pain will only get you so far. These types of treatments can help relieve pain and discomfort, but they aren’t a permanent treatment for TMJ.

To prevent further damage and reduce pain more effectively, it’s imperative that you work with an experienced TMJ dentist on a treatment plan. Call (303) 691-0267 or contact us online today to make an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Kevin Berry at the TMJ Therapy and Sleep Center of Colorado.