Eating with TMJ Pain
by Dr. Scott Bolding
If you’ve ever experienced TMJ pain then you know how hard it can be. The pain can make it hard to concentrate. You may even miss work or school. Eating with TMJ pain can be especially difficult. Your joint is too stiff to open your mouth wide enough to eat things like apples or sandwiches. And chewing things like steak, candy, or nuts hurts too much.
Many TMJ patients worry about not getting enough to eat because of their jaw joint pain. But it is possible, and essential, to eat well while you have a TMJ disorder. You just have to make some adjustments. We usually recommend going on a soft food diet. A soft food diet gives your jaw joint a chance to rest. An anti-inflammatory diet will also be helpful while treating TMJ pain.
Eating with TMJ pain does require some changes in your diet. But it’s actually easier than you think. Take a look at our guide below to learn more about eating with TMJ pain.
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What is a Soft Food Diet?
A soft food diet simply involves eating foods that are easy to bite and chew. When treating any joint the goal is to take as much pressure off of the joint as possible. Your joint needs rest in order to heal. Resting the jaw joint can be tricky though. You need it to eat and speak.
Certain foods put too much pressure on your joint. Hard foods like apples or crusty bread force you to open your mouth wide in order to bite them. Chewy foods like steak require repetitive movement from the jaw. If you have a TMJ disorder you should avoid these foods as much as possible. They will put more strain on the joint, making it difficult for it to heal.
With a soft food diet, you eat things that are still nutritious but don’t require too much movement from your jaw joint. Going on a soft food diet for TMJ pain gives your joint a chance to rest. This helps make any other treatment more effective.
What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Some studies show that certain foods can help reduce inflammation naturally. An anti-inflammatory diet combined with other treatments can help people who are dealing with chronic or severe TMJ disorders. The key to making a diet like this successful is sticking with it long-term and following the entire treatment plan, your TMJ specialist outlines for you. When it comes to severe or chronic TMJ disorders, diet alone won’t solve your problems.
But it can help. There are specific types of foods that can work with your body to control inflammation and reduce pain.
Antioxidant-rich foods protect your body from free radicals, which cause disease and inflammation. Fresh fruits and several vegetables are packed with antioxidants. Try including spinach, potatoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, and squash in your regular diet. Berries and melons also have a lot of antioxidants in them and can help reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids can actually stop inflammation from forming. They can be found in cold water fish like salmon, plant oils, and eggs.
Spices like ginger and turmeric also help fight inflammation. You can add lemon ginger tea to your morning routine. There are also plenty of recipes that incorporate turmeric that you can try.
In contrast to these anti-inflammatory foods, you should also avoid certain things that can make inflammation in your joints worse. Processed food, fried food, red meat, and food with added sugar all increase inflammation. Reducing these foods can help reduce the pain in your jaw joint.
What Should I Not Eat with TMJ Pain?
Food that you should not eat with TMJ pain include:
- Sticky or chewy candy, like caramel
- Crusty bread and bagels
- Tough meat like steak
- Hard fruits like apples
- Hard, crunchy veggies like carrots or celery
- Fatty foods
Hard, crispy, and chewy foods are often difficult for people with TMJ disorders to eat. These foods make your jaw work harder in order to bite and chew. The more your jaw has to work while you eat, the more inflammation increases.
Unhealthy, fat-rich foods also increase inflammation in your body in general. If you want to reduce inflammation in your jaw joint and other areas of your body it’s important to avoid red meat, pastries, and fried foods.
What Should I Eat with TMJ Pain?
Food that you can and should eat with TMJ pain include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Soft fruits like bananas and pears
- Cooked veggies
A soft food diet is ideal for dealing with TMJ pain. These foods give your jaw a chance to rest, which helps it heal.
Ceatus Media Group. (2014, November 6). Foods to Eat If Your Jaw Hurts. Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey. https://www.headachetmjnewjersey.com/foods-eat-jaw-hurts/
What Are The Best Foods To Eat To Ease TMJ? | TMJ Plus. (2020, October 22). TMJ Plus Wellness Center. https://www.tmjplus.com/what-are-the-best-foods-to-eat-to-ease-tmj/
Colgate. (2022, February 9). Foods To Eat When Your TMJ Is Aching. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/temporomandibular-disorder/foods-to-eat-with-tmj
Eating with TMJ Pain
The Right Diet Can Help
Eating with TMJ pain can be a challenge. But knowing what to eat with TMJ pain is important if you want your joint to heal quickly. The right TMJ diet can give your joint a chance to rest and helps your body fight off inflammation.
But in most cases, you can’t depend solely on a TMJ diet. With mild cases, the right diet combined with over-the-counter pain medication should work fine. But if your pain is more severe you’ll need to look into other treatments, like mouthguards and even surgery, as well. Ultimately, the right treatment plan will depend on your unique case. But adjusting what you’re eating is an important step in the right direction.