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What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up

Temporomandibular joint problems don't have to thwart a healthy diet

This article is endorsed by
The TMJ Association.

Consuming nutritious foods is important to our health. And dining on a delicious, beautifully prepared meal is one of the great pleasures of life. Yet for the millions of people suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction — a condition known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders or TMD — eating can be difficult.

People with TMD may have trouble opening their mouths all the way and sometimes experience pain when biting and chewing. Eating foods that are too hard or chewy can aggravate the condition. In seeking relief, people with TMD often alter their eating habits in a way that makes their meals less nutritious — giving up on vitamin-rich vegetables or high-protein meats, for example.

That's why the Journal of the American Dental Association recently published a list of food options for those suffering from this debilitating condition, which mainly affects women of childbearing age. These guidelines are intended to help TMD sufferers get the nutrition they need, and actually enjoy eating.

How to Eat Right When Temporomandibular Joint Pain Flares Up

  • Take small bites
  • Chew slowly
  • Cut all foods into bite-size pieces
  • Limit jaw opening to the extent that is comfortable
  • Select moist foods or use gravies or sauces to moisten foods
  • Chop whole foods to consistencies that can be comfortably tolerated
  • Peel fruits and vegetables that have skin

Food Preparation Tips for People With TMD

  • Peel all fruits with hard or chewy skin (example: apples, peaches, plums, pears).
  • Chop whole (peeled) fruits.
  • Use the blender to puree or "sauce" any fruits.
  • Make smoothies with peeled fruits in the blender, adding ice, milk or yogurt.
  • Wash, steam, or cook greens such as spinach, chard, kale, or collards for 2 to 3 minutes, finely chop into a ribbon-like thickness.
  • Chop tomatoes.
  • Peel and finely chop cucumbers.
  • Peel and either shred or finely chop or mince root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, or beets. If chopped, cook after chopping.
  • Cook broccoli, cauliflower, or other similar vegetables until tender, then chop.
  • Juice or make smoothies with any vegetables by following the juicing machine instructions.
  • Make vegetable soups and purees.
  • Peel, cook until tender, and chop other vegetables with skin.
  • Cook, chop, and mash potatoes (white or sweet).
  • Try purchasing commercial vegetable or tomato juices.
Legumes & Nuts
  • Cook and mash or puree legumes that are larger than the size of a pea.
  • Use nut butters (any nuts can be used).
Protein Foods
  • Cook poultry or meats until tender; moisten with broth, gravies, or other sauces; cut into bite-size pieces.
  • Cook and cut fish into bite-size pieces, soften with sauces as desired; make tuna salad.
  • Chop tofu and tempeh into bite-size pieces; tempeh may need moistening.
Dairy Foods
  • Consume all milk products, yogurt, and cheese as tolerated.
Dairy Alternatives
  • If unable to eat protein foods or nut butters, try alternatives such as meal replacement beverages (example: instant breakfast and whey protein beverages or powder).
  • Prepare hot cereals.
  • Try couscous, quinoa, farro, rice, and other cooked grains.
  • Cook orzo and other small pasta until tender.
  • Cut thin toast into small pieces.

For more information on nutrition and TMD, download a free copy of the TMJ Association's booklet, TMD Nutrition and You by visiting

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