TMJ and cold water therapy

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ for short) is a condition that is usually treated by the dental industry, which makes it hard to get insurance coverage for treatments. But I don’t think it makes sense for a dentist to treat a major joint problem. Your jaw joints worker harder than any other joint in the body, and unlike other ball-and-socket joints, can move from side to side, up and down, and all around. They are also some of the strongest joints in your body. The disk that cushions these joints is not like the cartilage in your other joints — it’s stronger, and so far, has been found to be irreplaceable.

In the 1980s when I was diagnosed with TMJ, there was no such thing as a TMJ specialist (see above link). Since TMJ causes referred pain to your teeth (and face), I had plenty of unnecessary dental work (including extractions) before I was correctly diagnosed.

To arrive at this diagnosis, my dentist injected all the major nerves in my mouth with a local anesthetic, called nerve blocks.  Hours later as I sat at home drooling, my dentist called (he was a nice guy) and asked me if I still had pain.  Yes sir, I replied, the pain is still there. He then referred me to a “TMJ specialist,” who proceeded to try a lot of treatments that had no effect or just caused more pain.

This specialist told me a story about one of his patients who used to walk around all day with a cup of cold water in each hand to manage the pain.  Obviously, he was exaggerating, because it’s impossible to do anything with a cup of water in each hand.  But this was the best “advice” I got from that “specialist.”

It’s also difficult to do anything when you’re holding an ice pack to your face all day.  And I’ve found that ice therapy can lose its effectiveness when used too often, although I hold things like freeze pops against my face a couple of times a day (before I eat them).  So instead, I use cold water therapy throughout the day, putting bottles of water in the refrigerator and switching them out as the water becomes room temperature.

Muscles that become hard from pain and spasm give off a lot of heat, and the cold water can help reduce that heat.  You take a sip of water, transfer it to one side or the other, in the front, above or below, hold it for a couple of seconds to stretch the muscles or until the water is no longer cold. This doesn’t really help with the pain, but I think it’s more of a preventative measure that can sometimes help to reduce the amount of pain storms I suffer from. The cold water and freeze pops are also good for the throat tightness and dryness that can accompany TMJ.

Obviously, it’s a good thing to drink a lot of water, especially in combination with any medications you take for pain.  The only side effect to this therapy is the amount of time I spend in the bathroom, which can obviously interfere with sleep.  Reducing your water intake an hour or so before sleep can help, but suffering from constant pain always messes with your sleep patterns anyway.  As with most treatments for pain, there’s a trade off with cold water therapy, but I think it’s relatively harmless.

I can’t be sure, but I think cold water therapy may also help those who suffer from headaches caused by stress and tension, along with keeping your body hydrated.

Water:  it’s the new drug. (But I’d rather have bud.) (Hey, that rhymes.) 🙂

3 thoughts on “TMJ and cold water therapy

  1. I’m really glad that you posted your experience with cold water therapy for TMJ. I’ve been doing a little bit of reading about TMJ after I noticed that the dull pain in my jaw started getting persistently worse. If my suspicions are correct, I may have to get some kind of treatment for TMJ. It’s good to know that using some kind of cold compressor like a frozen water bottle can help to reduce the amount of pain that I feel later in the day. I don’t know if this happens to you, but I’ve been feeling more pain in my jaw when I wake up in the morning. Do you still use a cold water bottle to help with the pain in the morning? It’s going to be a while until I can see a dentist, so any additional advice will be helpful. Thanks for your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If your TMJ pain is worse in the mornings, that could mean you’re clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth at night. Usually, a dentist will make a mouth splint you can wear overnight to keep you from doing that. If you’re having jaw pain all day, then the dentist will probably advise you to wear the splint all day (not fun). But now there’s an over-the-counter splint you can buy without going to the dentist, so I would try that first to see if it helps. Since the dentist will custom make your splint (which is expensive, especially because you have to keep going back to get it refitted), the OTC splint might not fit as well, but I’ve never tried an OTC splint so I don’t know how well they work. But they’re approved by the FDA, for whatever that’s worth. I didn’t have any luck with splint therapy, but I know other TMJ patients who’ve said it can help. Splint therapy is considered non-invasive because the effects can be reversed if there’s any problems.

      When you go to the dentist, if he/she suggests something like teeth resurfacing (which has not been proven to work, and can even make things worse), I would do your own research before you make a decision. Treatments like this are called “invasive” and most invasive treatments don’t work.

      I would also suggest a soft diet, as food that’s hard to chew (like nuts) increases jaw pain. And stop chewing gum. If you’ve been reading about TMJ, then you probably already know all this. 🙂

      The problem with cold water bottles and ice packs is that you can only use them for short periods of time, unless you’re not doing anything else. But with cold water therapy as I’ve described above, you can use it all day, every day. It will help with mild jaw pain, but it also helps to stretch out your facial muscles and can even be relaxing. That way, if you’re clenching your jaw throughout the day — and when you have jaw pain, that usually happens — then this will help to keep your muscles from getting hard, tight, and more painful. I use ice packs not only on my jaw area, but on my temples and the sides of my head too, but I try to limit this treatment for when the pain is really bad. Ice is at an extreme temperature and your nerves can stop responding to this treatment if you use it too much.

      Well, it looks like I wrote a book, sorry about that. Hope this information helps and feel free to ask questions whenever you want. 🙂


    • How odd that the URL indicated in the email which contained your comment is for a dental office:

      Now it makes me wonder if the time and effort I made to respond to your comment was wasted. After all, if you work at this dentist’s office, you have access to professionals who could have answered your question. Next time, I’ll check a commenter’s URL before I respond. Thanks for teaching me that.


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