Neck pain may occur in isolation, but often neck pain, ear pain and jaw pain co-exist, leading to pain when eating, speaking, moving the head, and even when lying down to sleep. Sometimes, this triad is a result of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), where the jaw joint and related bones, ligaments, and cartilage are typically swollen and painful, making it hard to open the jaw.
The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the front wall of the ear canal, meaning that pain and dysfunction in the jaw can cause referred ear pain as well as neck pain. TMJ is a temporary condition in some people, but it can persist in others, causing an increased risk of other health issues due to a reduced ability or enthusiasm to eat well and nourish the body overall.
Diet and TMJ
A special TMJ diet can be helpful both for reducing discomfort while eating and to decrease the severity and progression of the condition. For example, eating softer foods can minimize the need to chew, although food should still be mixed with saliva in order to encourage complete digestion.
It is also helpful to decrease intake of pro-inflammatory animal-derived foods such as meat and dairy, and concentrate on anti-inflammatory plant-based foods, perhaps by drinking green juices and smoothies containing pineapple, papaya, blueberries, hemp oil or flax oil, and added turmeric and spirulina.
Hydration and TMJ
It is important to drink plenty of fluids so as to prevent further pain from dehydrated connective tissues. The jaw bone also contains discs like those in the spine. These discs are more likely to become dehydrated and brittle in those who are often dehydrated, and in smokers, increasing the risk of jaw pain and mechanical dysfunction. Drinking through a straw can help minimize discomfort with TMJ.
Gum-Chewing and Jaw Pain
Those who chew gum, or who regularly eat food that is difficult to chew, are at higher risk of TMJ, while temporary TMJ may be caused by these activities. Taking a break from gum-chewing, and eating a diet of soft foods, can allow the jaw to rest and heal, relieving swelling and pain.
Stress and Jaw Pain
TMJ is also linked to bruxism, or teeth-grinding, and anyone showing signs of this is likely to need to use a mouthguard at night to protect the jaw and teeth. Looking at stress reduction is also helpful in such cases as bruxism is often linked to poorly managed stress. Taking up meditation, yoga, a new exercise or hobby, or undergoing counselling, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, can be useful for some people.
Natural Relief for TMJ
To soothe the jaw further, it can help to drape a warm cloth over the area three times a day, and to make use of natural anti-inflammatory agents such as curcumin and Boswellia serrata, which don’t have the undesirable gastrointestinal side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Pain in the jaw, ear, and neck that persists for more than a week, or which is severe, requires assessment by a physician, dentist, or a specialist in otorhinolaryngology (an ear-nose-throat specialist).