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What Causes TMJ Dysfunction?

What causes TMJ dysfunction? Dr. Angela Walk

TMJ is such a frustrating condition because even the most simple and enjoyable things in life can cause a flare-up such as eating a juicy steak or chewing a piece of gum.

In my practice, I see firsthand how devastating it is when TMJ pain gets in the way. It can make normal facial movements like smiling, laughing, and even talking painful.

The good news is that most of my patients find relief using natural methods such as avoiding certain aggravating foods, practicing better posture, lowering stress, and using natural essential oils for pain management.

What Is TMJ Syndrome?

TMJ stands for the Temporomandibular Joint. TMJ is a term given to a collective number of disorders that involve problems with normal musculature and joint functions of the jaw.

The TMJ works as a sliding hinge between your jaw and skull. This tiny joint can become inflamed through improper positioning or other factors such as muscle imbalance, incorrect alignment of teeth, and poor posture.

The pain can then radiate to other parts of the jaw, neck, and ear causing significant discomfort in some cases. It can even cause a headache or migraine.

Many patients experience loss of normal movement of the jaw and often deviations. Because many sufferers clinch or grind their teeth at night, symptoms can affect normal sleep patterns.

What Are The Causes Of TMJ Disorder?

Your TMJ symptoms may be from a combination of factors. The exact cause can sometimes be difficult to determine. Below, is a comprehensive list of possible causes.

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth

  • Increased times of stress

  • A poor diet of inflammatory foods

  • Poor posture: Forward Head Posture

  • Injury to the jaw, which can cause it to become broken or dislocated

  • Improper or misaligned bite: overbite or underbite

  • Nail biting

  • Excessive gum chewing

  • Biting the inside of the lip or cheek

  • Sleep apnea or disrupted sleep

  • Arthritis: that can wear away joint cartilage

  • Myofascial pain syndrome in the jaw

  • Vitamin deficiencies: Vitamin D and Magnesium

  • Sleeping on your stomach or side

What Foods Make TMJ Worse?

What foods make TMJ worse? Dr. Angela Walk

Some of the worst foods for TMJ pain are:

  • Gum and chewy candy like taffy or caramels

  • Bagels, crusty bread, pretzels and other chewy baked goods

  • Apples, raw carrots, and other hard fruits and vegetables

  • Chewy or tough meat

  • Hard nuts

  • Ice

Avoid these foods as much as possible during a flare-up to reduce the stress on your TMJ.

What Foods Are Good For TMJ?

One of the best ways to start finding relief from TMJ pain is by simply eating softer foods. Eat soft foods such as yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, and cooked fruits and vegetables.

When you eat softer foods, you place less stress on the joints and muscles of the jaw and eases the pressure. Try to stick with a soft diet for several weeks to allow for the inflammation to reduce.

In my practice, we take a holistic approach to wellness. I recommend foods that reduce inflammation such as blueberries, strawberries, healthy fats, leafy veggies, spinach, kale, and wild caught fish. Turmeric and ginger are also powerful anti-inflammatory foods.

Limited inflammatory foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and trans-fats like margarine. The inflammation they cause later does nothing to help your disorder.

Combining a healthy balanced diet and soft foods is key to our approach.

Can Sleeping On Your Side or Stomach Cause Jaw Pain?

Can sleeping on your stomach cause jaw pain? Dr. Angela Walk

Sleep is important for many aspects of good health. To help minimize TMJ pain, avoid sleeping on your side or your stomach. Both of these sleeping positions cause more jaw discomfort and actually make your TMJ worse.

When you sleep on your stomach or your side, it puts pressure on your jaw which pushes it out of alignment. This can create immense pain upon waking.

The stomach position also increases your risk for jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Laying on your side with a hand under your pillow can also exacerbate the symptoms of TMJ.

The best sleeping position to minimize TMJ stress is on your back. Use only one supportive pillow under your head and a pillow under your knees. This keeps your jaw, neck, and lower back in better alignment.

We know that sleeping on your back might not feel as comfortable as sleeping on your side or stomach, but you will sleep more soundly and wake up with less jaw pain.

Can Bad Posture Cause TMJ?

Can bad posture cause TMJ? Dr. Angela Walk

Many people don't realize this but poor posture is one of the most common causes of TMJ that I see in my practice. The posture/position of your head and neck effect the alignment of your jaw.

Forward head posture (FHP) is when your head translates forward in relation to your shoulder. This type of posture must be corrected before any real correction can be made with TMJ.

Proper posture is when your ear is in line with your shoulder. If your head is shifted too far forward, it places tremendous stress on you TMJ.

It’s common for people to slouch, lean toward our computer screens or stare down at our phones. When we do this, our spine bends forward and everything else goes with it, including our head and jaw.

Our cervical spine (neck) is responsible for holding our head up which weigh between 8-12 pounds. If the head juts forward into FHP, this doubles the amount of weight placed on your neck and TMJ.

The spine must remain in a vertical line or all the stress is displaced to other arears and the jaw takes added tension. The fine and complex muscles of the temporomandibular joint were not intended to endure this extra weight.

So when these muscles are asked to bear the weight of our head, they ultimately go on strike. The result is TMJ pain.

If you sit for prolonged periods at a workstation, be mindful of the position of your head. Make sure your ear is line with your shoulder and you avoid looking down. Also, choose a supportive chair and sit firmly up against the back of the chair.

Take frequent breaks to improve your posture. While driving, set your seat to be as upright as possible. If you are looking at your phone or reading, choose a space that allows you to sit upright and place the object on a pillow to avoid looking down.

Can TMJ Cause Ear Pain?

An aching ear is a common symptom for people with a TMJ disorder. Because the TMJ is near the auditory canal, pain and inflammation in this joint can affect the ear.

A ringing sound in the ear, also known as tinnitus, is often a part of TMJ ear pain.

What Causes A TMJ Headache?

What causes a TMJ headache? Dr. Angela Walk

People don’t often tie TMJ to a headache. Therefore, if you suffer from reoccurring headaches, it’s important to take a closer look at other signs linked to the condition.

The most common causes of a TMJ headache is misaligned teeth and teeth grinding. This often happens at night during sleep.

Because of the proximity of the jaw to the head, it’s easy for TMJ pain to travel upward and create a TMJ headache or migraine. There are also a number of nerves in the face that run right alongside the TMJ.

This means a little bit of TMJ pain can create a big TMJ headache. If your teeth are misaligned or you grind or clinch your teeth, a condition called bruxism, you can develop dysfunction and pain at the TMJ.

Applying essential oils to the jaw helps to relieve TMJ muscle tension, soothes teeth grinding & jaw stiffness, and helps ease stress that leads to jaw clenching & physical distress.

What Causes Jaw Clenching?

Health specialists often point to too much stress and certain personality types as causes of jaw clenching. Nervous tension, anxiety, anger issues, and recurring pain syndromes are all common causes.

Incorporating some relaxation techniques such as massage therapy, meditation, breathwork, or counseling can be helpful.

If you clench your jaw at night, focusing on better sleep routines can help. For example, try drinking less caffeine throughout the day, getting more cardio exercise, cutting down on screen time, and having a consistent sleep schedule.

Does Teeth Grinding Cause TMJ?

Does teeth grinding cause TMJ? Dr. Angela Walk

Excessive teeth grinding may first be noticed by your dentist due to the damage to your teeth and gums. Whether you grind your teeth at night or during the day, you may not be aware of your actions until complications develop.

While teeth grinding can happen at any point during the day, the majority of people do it at night. And, many don’t know that they are doing it, unless their sleeping partner or dentist mentions it.

That is why it can take months, or even years, to be diagnosed, and by then significant damage may already be done.

Can Stress Cause TMJ?

Stress and TMJ are inextricably linked. Stress not only affects muscle tension but also our body’s ability to heal itself.

Many stressed people experience poor sleep, tend to grind and clench their teeth more and aggravate TMJ symptoms.

Stress also makes it hard to sleep well and increases secretion of cortisol, which contributes to hormonal imbalances and can trigger more inflammation.

Learning relaxation techniques to better manage our stress will help us get the symptoms of our TMJ disorder under control.

  • Stretching or Yoga

  • Meditating and Mindfulness

  • Praying

  • Breathwork

  • Exercise

  • Massage therapy

  • Applying essential oils

Lowering our stress levels will also help improve our sleep habits. Getting quality sleep is critical to controlling inflammation. Sleep also helps lower stress, the cyclicality of nature.

What Is The Most Effective Treatment For TMJ?

What is the most effective treatment for TMJ? Dr. Angela Walk

There are many natural treatments for TMJ relief. In my experience, these approaches are the most effective.

Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the body at various points to restore normal energy fields and to stimulate your body’s natural healing processes.

Acupuncture can provide relief to TMJ pain. An acupuncturist will insert needles in areas around your jaw as well as other areas to ease your pain and even provide you with improved jaw function and make it easier to open your mouth.

Self-Massage: Massaging the jaw muscles several times a day can help loosen tight muscles and provide you with pain relief. Gently massaging the jaw and temple muscles should be done in a circular motion while opening and closing the jaw slowly for about 30 seconds every four to six hours. Apply moist heat after each session.

Chiropractic Care: One of the underlying issues that cause TMJ disorders is a misalignment of the cervical spine. If a vertebra is out of alignment, it can cause imbalanced muscle tension, nerve irritation, and postural changes that add unnecessary stress to the jaw.

Unusual pressure placed on the joint itself can also be a reason for a misalignment in the jaw.

Correcting these misalignments through chiropractic adjustments can be an effective solution to TMJ pain.

It will reduce pain and discomfort, but also relieve other symptoms associated with TMJ pain like neck pain, headaches, and earaches.

Applying moist heat: Apply a moist heat pack to your jaw for 15 minutes 2-3 times daily. This helps to improve circulation which is necessary for healing. It also helps to relax tight muscles.

Applying Essential Oils: Essential oils provide analgesic and relaxation properties that help to ease jaw muscle tightness and calm TMJ headaches.

Can Mouth Guards Help TMJ?

Can mouth guards help TMJ? Dr. Angela Walk

One of the most common conventional treatments for TMJ is a mouthguard. The purpose of the mouthpiece is to fit over your teeth and is to be worn during times where clinching and grinding are most frequent.

When worn, the nightguard provides added shock absorption and a protective layer of cushioning to minimize the stress grinding places on your jaw and teeth.

While some people find a mouth guard to be uncomfortable, it is one of the best ways to protect the health of your teeth and jaw.

What Supplements Are Good For TMJ?

I have spent countless hours reviewing the research around nutrition and inflammation and how it affects the healing of connective tissues especially the TMJ.

My conclusion is that TMJ and other inflammatory conditions are greatly improved by consuming foods and supplements that reduce the amount of inflammation in the body.

There is also concern regarding long term use of NSAIDS and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories that can be harmful over time.

This prompted me to dig deeper into the best supplements for managing TMJ disorders.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D deficiency commonly presents with widespread aches, weakness, and tiredness. If I have a patient with chronic musculoskeletal pain, I often suspect a Vitamin D deficiency.

A recent study found that vitamin D supplementation effectively provides TMJ pain relief. According to the findings, patients with Vitamin D deficiencies experience worse TMJ flare-ups and experienced significant improvements after taking food supplements.

A separate study explains that lack of Vitamin D increases the parathyroid hormone levels of patients with TMJD. In excess amounts, the parathyroid hormone can disrupt calcium metabolism, which plays a part in maintaining bone and joint health.

If you think you lack vitamin D in your diet, you can try taking food supplements or jazzing up your weekly meals with Vitamin D-rich food items.


Magnesium is a very important mineral that helps the body regulate muscle and nerve function. It is also a vital nutrient in managing TMJ.

Magnesium helps to reduce inflammation and calm aches and pains. I have heard many stories of long-standing TMJ sufferer’s symptoms suddenly diminishing after taking a magnesium supplement.

The best type of magnesium to take for TMJ is magnesium glycinate. It is the most effective type to reduce muscle spasms, ease aches and pains, and helps relax contracted muscles.

I recommend taking 300-500mg of magnesium glycinate daily.


Turmeric has long been recognized for its ability to fight inflammation and reduce pain, making it great for TMJ. The supplement I recommend has curcumin (the principle ingredient in turmeric), Boswellia serrata extract (frankincense), and other powerful anti-inflammatories.

Take a look at those ingredients here.

Collagen Protein

Collagen has been shown in study after study to help with other connective tissue conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, overuse injuries, skin conditions and many other conditions involving connective tissue including TMJ.

We are in the beginning stages of learning the connection between collagen and TMJ. Studies suggests that collagen may have a unique anti-inflammatory effect on damaged collagen within the joint space of the TMJ and may provide the fundamental building blocks for repairing damaged tissues.

I recommend collagen to most of my patients with muscle, joint & fascia pain. I prefer the liquid collagen as it is absorbed more quickly. Other benefits include support for gut health, skin, nail, and hair strength.


Hemp-derived CBD oil interacts directly with receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Also known as the ECS, the endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors responsible for regulating vital functions such as sleep cycles, inflammatory response, and stress levels.

The action of CBD oil on the ECS has a full-body effect that may also help manage TMJ due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties.

Hemp-derived CBD also has the added benefit of providing relief without the intoxicating properties inherent with products containing THC.

CBD offers an natural, healthy alternative for people who have TMJ and have relied on medications that can be habit-forming and cause more side effects. It also has incredible benefits for sleep.

I have been an advocate of CBD for the last 7 years or so. Once it was legal in all 50 states, I began offering it to my patients.

For TMJ, I recommend the 500mg tincture. For more severe cases, the 1,000mg may be necessary to calm the pain.

What Are The Best Essential Oils For TMJ?

Doctors often recommend over-the-counter painkillers for TMJ pain relief, but those often have nasty side effects that further destabilize our health.

They also mask symptoms and distract us from the real problem by centering pain as the real issue, as opposed to the underlying condition causing the pain.

There are many ways to find relief naturally that aren’t habit-forming or cause side effects. This is where essential oils come in. Essential oils have enhanced lives for thousands of years with their powerful medicinal properties.

They have plant based intelligence that seeks imbalances in the body to support health and have been used successfully with diminishing pain and inflammation.

Essential oils provide analgesic and relaxation properties that help to ease jaw muscle tightness and calm TMJ headaches. Most of the topical creams on the market are full of unnatural ingredients and do not provide deeper healing.

I handcrafted an essential oil blend specifically for the symptoms of TMJ.

Our TMJ Remed-X offers a plant based formula crafted to calm TMJ muscle tension and TMJ headache, help soothe teeth grinding & jaw stiffness, promote relaxation & restorative sleep

It also helps ease anxious feelings and stress that leads to jaw clenching & physical distress.

Re-Cap: Natural TMJ Relief Care Tips by Dr. Angela

  • Correct posture: Forward head posture is one of the most common causes

  • Avoid sleeping on your side or stomach

  • Apply essential oils, moist heat, and gently massage jaw muscles daily

  • Choose softer foods and avoid chewing gum

  • Consider relaxation techniques such as massage or meditation

  • Try chiropractic for neck and jaw alignment

  • Try a nightguard to diminish the stress of clenching and grinding

  • Avoid extreme jaw movements like yawning, singing or dental visits

  • Consider supplementing with vitamin D3, magnesium, turmeric, CBD, or collagen protein for calming muscle tension and inflammation.

  • Try massage therapy to relieve myofascial pain


Dealing with the pain of TMJ can be life changing, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. By arming yourself with knowledge and taking charge of your healing, you can get back to the activities you love and feel like yourself again.

Using natural remedies and holistic methods are the most effective, long-term solutions for managing jaw pain. Thankfully, most cases of TMJ can be resolved with these approaches.

To manage TMJ symptoms naturally, try stress reducing techniques, get good quality rest, eat an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise regularly and reduce pain naturally with essential oils.

Best of Health,

Dr. Angela

About Dr. Angela

I have been involved in the health and wellness industry for over 25 years as a wellness physician, sports chiropractor, and foot health coach.

I have written extensively for health publications and I am keenly aware of trends and new developments.

I embrace an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices. By working to inform readers of the options available to them, I hope to improve your health and quality of life.

Want to know more about Dr. Angela? Read more here


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