Managing Your TMJ Pain

If you currently have or are managing TMJ pain, you are likely aware that certain foods are more painful to eat than others; or, you may have new-onset jaw pain and are finding that eating anything right now hurts. Trying to navigate pain with eating can be frustrating. Here is a list of the top 10 foods that cause TMJ dysfunction and could be contributing to or worsening your jaw pain.

Top 10 Foods

  1. Gum – When you chew gum, it requires you to continuously chew. This can exhaust the muscles of the jaw. With fatigue, there can be pain and this can also cause headaches and migraines.
  2. Crunchy fruits and veggies – Some vegetables and fruits have rough skins or are hard to chew. When the TMJ joints are inflamed, chewing on hard foods can cause increased pain and symptoms. 
  3. Bagels – while they are delicious, bagels place excessive strain through the jaw muscles and joints. Bagels tend to be bulky, requiring the jaw to open wide which can cause pain and strain in irritated joints.
  4. French bread – Hard, crunchy bread can exhaust the TMJ joint. Any food that requires gnawing or long repetitive chewing can cause pain.
  5. Chips, nuts, crunchy cereal – The jaw has to work extra hard when eating these foods. The hardness of the nuts can put pressure on both sides of the jaw when you bite down.
  6. Ice – Ice is a hard substance that requires the jaw to produce lots of forces to bite through it. The added stress to the jaw is not good for the TMJ joint. The pressure can lead to inflammation.
  7. Pizza – pizza itself isn’t bad for the TMJ joint, but the crust can be chewy and hard to get through. Repetitive chewing through pizza crust can cause inflammation and irritation.
  8. Steak, beef jerky (any chewy meat) – steak is one of the highest offenders of TMJ pain. The need to continuously chew a piece of meat can increase jaw pain.
  9. Popcorn – The repetitive motion of your jaw will likely aggravate your TMJ pain.
  10. Lettuce – Eating a salad requires you to chew your food many times. Carrots, cucumbers, and other hard vegetables and toppings frequent a salad. The combination of continuously chewing and hard-to-eat foods makes eating salad painful for someone with TMJ dysfunction.
This list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common. Does this mean you can never again eat these foods? Usually, no, but you may temporarily need to cut them into smaller pieces or avoid them until the pain lessons. Once you are pain-free, you can start to reintroduce the offending foods. 
You may be wondering if you should seek treatment for your pain. Certain symptoms, such as pain that doesn’t go away or always comes back, painful clicking/popping/grinding, inability to properly chew your food, or losing the ability to open your mouth enough to eat or perform oral care, can signify a bigger underlying cause and that you may want to consider having examined by your physical therapist or dentist. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, so any symptom that is a new or worsening problem for you should be addressed. 
The specialty-trained physical therapists at Freedom can evaluate you and work with you in a plan to address any jaw pain or dysfunction you may be having. 
Penelope works with a wide array of patient populations. Her extensive background allows her to successfully improve the quality of life for patients suffering from chronic pain conditions. She also has strong experience in neurological rehab, sports medicine, orthopedic care, and women's health.