The Role of Foods in TMJ (Jaw) Dysfunction and Chronic Headaches.
Headaches can come from various sources. One cause could be dysfunction of your Temporomandibular joint (TMJ). TMJ Dysfunction (TMD) is a catch-all term for anything wrong with your TM Joint, including pathology within the joint itself or more commonly the muscles around the joint. Chewing very crunchy, hard, or chewy foods increase the amount of work the muscles of the jaw (muscles involved in mastication) need to do to prepare the food to be swallowed. The main muscles of mastication are the Masseter and Temporalis muscles, the cheek and the temple muscle respectively. Like any muscle in your body they can be overworked if they are suddenly doing more than they normally do.
The excess tension created in these muscles could be a culprit in causing headaches. Examples of common hard to chew foods are: Bagels, hard crusty breads, steak, pretzels, nuts, salads, raw carrots, caramels, licorice.
If you suffer from regular headaches and a cause has not been determined perhaps you have a TMJ dysfunction.
SELF-ASSESSMENT TO DETERMINE IF YOUR HEADACHES MAY BE CAUSED BY EXCESSIVE JAW MUSCLE TENSION:
1. Press firmly around your temples, the area lateral to your eye socket and up into your hairline (Is this area tender? does it reproduce your headaches?)
2. Place your pinky finger into your ear with the pad facing your eye, press firmly and open your mouth (do you feel popping? Pain? Tenderness?)
1. USE MOIST HEAT OVER YOUR TEMPLES AND CHEEKS
Do this for 10-15 minutes, If the heat does not work try ice for 10-15 minutes over the same area. The question of whether to use heat, or ice on an injured or painful area is a perennial question that does not always have a clear cut answer. The rule of thumb is usually use ice on an acute injury and heat on an injury or painful area that is chronic but in actual practice the lines are blurred, so use whichever one works best for you.
A) The first 2 images show a practitioner performing a cheek (Masseter muscle) and temple (Temporalis muscle) trigger point release massage but you can do the same thing for yourself. Find a tender point and then gently press and hold until the tenderness diminishes.
B) To release tension in your Temporalis gently press your fingers into your temples (start just lateral to your eyes), maintain that pressure as you fan your fingers out and slide your hands up into your hairline. Let your jaw drop open as you slide your hands upward.
Pinch your cheek between your thumb (outside your mouth) and your pointer (inside your mouth) then press your pointer out and pull down at the same time on the cheek muscle (Masseter).
4. AVOID CHEWY, CRUNCHY HARD FOODS FOR 3-4 WEEKS
This will give your muscles a chance to relax and return to baseline. Then slowly add those foods back into your diet and limit them in general, to one chewy/crunchy/hard food a day.
If headaches persist you might need a full evaluation and treatment from a TMD specialist. You may be a night clencher or teeth grinder and may need to see a dentist who specializes in TMD, to be fitted for a night guard, or you may have a very “forward head posture” which will inhibit the jaw muscles from relaxing. If your head and neck posture is contributing to your symptoms you will need to address that either prior to, or at the same time as addressing the masticatory muscles. Faulty posture can be corrected with stretching, soft tissue and/or joint release techniques, core muscle strengthening and corrective postural exercises.