With temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder (TMD), oral appliance therapy or splints can help improve patients’ symptoms. And while it is common to recommend an oral appliance for treatment, are we missing out on another important aspect of care? It is possible.

As dentists we often prescribe what we know will work, which is often an oral appliance. However, patients can gain improvements in their health and well-being through exercise activities. These exercises are designed to aid in pain management and prevention.

Can Exercise Help?

One study looked at 46 women and 10 men with TMD associated with generalized pain. The patients underwent a 10-session structured supervised exercise program over 10-20 weeks. During this observation, patients would complete relaxation, as well as coordination and resistance training of the jaw and neck/shoulders. After completion of these exercises, jaw pain intensity was rated on a numerical scale. They also looked at endurance time for jaw opening and protrusion against resistance and chewing, and the effect of pain on daily activities.

After the exercise program was completed, patients exhibited a reduction in jaw pain and endurance time increased, but there were no significant differences in jaw pain intensity. This shows that exercise can help to reduce TMD pain and increase capacity in patients with TMD.

Exercises are thought to help improve TMD symptoms by:

  • Strengthening jaw muscles.
  • Stretching jaw muscles.
  • Relaxing jaw muscles.
  • Increasing jaw mobility.
  • Reducing jaw clicking.
  • Promoting jaw healing.

What Exercises Can We Do With Our Patients?

Activation of the jaw motor system with exercise has a positive impact on patients with TMD pain. When it comes to which exercises to perform with your patients, that can be left up to you. There are a variety of exercises that can help to improve jaw pain, elasticity and endurance, so do your research.

Some exercises you might want to consider sharing with your patients include:

  • Relaxed jaw exercise.
  • Goldfish exercises (partial opening).
  • Goldfish exercises (full opening).
  • Chin tucks.
  • Resisted opening of the mouth.
  • Resisted closing of the mouth.
  • Tongue up.
  • Side-to-side jaw movement.
  • Forward jaw movement.

It is important to adapt your treatment plans to your patient’s individual needs. This might include oral appliance therapy, exercises or both.

Keep expanding your knowledge and sign up for any of our in-depth TMD/Pain seminars and CE courses today!

Author: Mayoor Patel, DDS