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.) 🙂