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For someone with a temporomandibular joint disorder, eating can be a real pain. Because of the discomfort eating can cause, it’s especially important that those suffering from TMJ pain are extra mindful that they’re getting the nutrition they need. At the worst of times, nourishing smoothies and pureed soups will get you through. The best foods for TMJ are those that don’t require a lot of chewing. Here are some ideas for getting in a balanced diet while sticking to foods that won’t hurt your TMJ:

  1. Fruit
    You can get your daily fruit servings by snacking on bananas, applesauce, canned fruits (look for ones packed in 100% fruit juice instead of syrup), soft pears, or ripe melons.
  2. Vegetables
    Vegetable skins can sometimes be tough, so peeling them can often making chewing a lot easier on your jaw. But cooked carrots, squash, peas, and asparagus are all great options, regardless!
  3. Protein
    Stay away from chewy or tough meat, like steak. Instead, eat soft, healthy proteins like eggs, tofu, legumes, chicken, and fish.
  4. Grains & Starches
    There’s no shortage of options here: mashed potatoes, pasta, couscous, polenta, oatmeal, muffins, and lots more. Just be careful that you don’t choose a tough bread or anything with seeds or nuts.
  5. Dairy
    This is a pretty safe category, so enjoy plenty of cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, pudding, kefir, and dairy alternatives. (Of course, be aware of sugar content and take care of your teeth!)

What foods make your TMJ pain worse?

It’s best to avoid anything chewy, tough, crunchy, or too large that requires you to overextend your jaw. Try to stay away from beef jerky, gummies, caramel, steak, bagels, raw carrots, corn nuts, and whole apples.

How to prevent TMJ pain

In addition to eating the right foods, there are other ways you can be mindful of your jaw in daily life to prevent painful flare-ups. Check-in with yourself regularly to make sure you aren’t clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. If you find that your jaw aches when you wake up in the morning, you might be doing in it your sleep and need a special mouthguard from your dentist. It’s also important to do TMJ exercises designed to strengthen, stretch, and relax the jaw.

How to relieve your TMJ pain when it hurts

When your jaw starts aching, there are a few quick things you can do to lessen the pain. Give yourself a facial massage of the jaw, cheeks, and temples to relieve tension. Using ice or heat can also be useful. Cold helps reduce swelling and pain while heat helps relax muscles. Use an ice pack for severe pain for 10 to 20 minutes, or try applying a moist, warm towel to the area for mild to moderate muscle pain.

One of the most essential ways to care for your TMJ and your oral health overall is to talk with your dentist about what’s working for you and what isn’t. Constant TMJ pain shouldn’t be something you have to live with — there are lots of ways to manage your symptoms, eat healthy, delicious foods, and ensure that your jaw is on a healing path.