Does your face hurt? Because it's killing me! How many times did my brother say that to me during our growing-up years? Flash forward... now 43, he just told me that he paid $800 for a custom-made mouth guard "appliance" to wear while sleeping to treat his sore jaw, which was diagnosed as temporomandibular joint disorder (commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD). After teasing my brother a bit about "payback time," I decided to play nice and see if I could learn anything that might be helpful to him -- or anyone else, as this is a very common problem. I called Andrew S. Kaplan, DMD, associate clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, who wrote The TMJ Book. Dr. Kaplan told me that a common cause of TMJ is stress-induced grinding and clamping of the teeth, especially while sleeping. This irritates the muscles (and sometimes, though less often, the jaw joint). The result is headaches and soreness on the sides of the face and sometimes other symptoms, too, such as a clicking noise when you open or close your mouth. If you have these symptoms, Dr. Kaplan urged consulting with a dentist experienced in treating the issue -- he/she will tailor your treatment based on an examination. Dr. Kaplan told me that since TMJ is usually related to muscle tension, there are a number of jaw-relaxation exercises that people can do at home to relieve the pain. He shared several that may not only help soothe the discomfort but could in fact solve the problem if muscular irritation is what's causing your TMJ. TMJ Exercise Plan Dr. Kaplan suggested doing some stretching exercises to help release tension from your jaw when you experience pain... if you find that they don't help or even make matters worse, check in with your dentist, because you may need more aggressive treatment. Jaw Muscle Stretch Open your mouth just a bit. Place the palm of your right hand on the right side of your jaw, meanwhile sliding your lower jaw toward your hand. Push gently against it, creating resistance to the sideways movement -- hold for five seconds. Now repeat this with your left palm against the left side of your jaw. Do this five times on each side. Isometric Jaw Exercise Relaxing your mouth, protrude your lower jaw forward, straight, while placing your palm against the chin, creating resistance. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times. Neck Stretch 1 Turning your head to the right to rotate your neck, take two fingers of your left hand and place them on the left lower jaw, pushing slightly to gently stretch your neck muscles. Hold for five seconds. Now rotate your neck to the left while placing gentle pressure on the right lower jaw, again using two fingers to push and gently stretch the neck muscles. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times for each side. Neck Stretch II Standing up, extend your head back gently so that you are looking at the ceiling... you should feel a gentle stretch in your throat. Hold for five seconds. Now drop your head forward so that you are looking down at the floor, again feeling a gentle stretch, this time at the back of your neck. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times. Neck Stretch III Bend your neck to the right side, lowering your right ear to your right shoulder. Place two fingers on the left temple area and exert gentle pressure until you feel a stretch in your neck. Hold for five seconds. Now do this on the other side, using two fingers on your right temple to exert gentle pressure until you feel a stretch. Repeat two times on each side. Mouth Muscle Massage Place three fingers of each hand on their respective temples. In a circular motion, gently massage the temporalis muscles for about 10 seconds, being careful not to exert too much pressure. Repeat two or three times. Similarly, try this massage on the jaw, placing your hands just in front of and below your ears, which massages the masseter muscles. Dr. Kaplan's Other TMJ Tips Dr. Kaplan offered a few other suggestions as well... Avoid hard, crunchy or chewy foods (including salads) because these require side-to-side jaw motion. Don't chew gum, and try to avoid opening your mouth wide, including when yawning. (Place your hand under your jaw to restrain this natural impulse.) Don't rest your chin in your palm or cradle the telephone between your ear and shoulder. Try to keep your teeth slightly apart with your tongue relaxed between them as often as possible (say to yourself "lips together, teeth apart"). Soothe pain with a hot compress. To make one: Run hot water over a washcloth for a few minutes, wring and apply. Or you can buy microwavable hot compresses in a pharmacy. Dr. Kaplan said that these measures are often enough to solve the problem completely.. . too late for my brother who already shelled out for his fancy mouth guard, but if you have TMJ, you may want to give this routine a try first. Source(s): Andrew S. Kaplan, DMD, associate clinical professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, and author of The TMJ Book (Pharos).