Half an inch in front of your earlobe, nestled in the space where your lower jaw meets your skull, resides a little joint that can cause a lot of trouble. Clicking, stiffness, or dull pain when you chew or talk are the biggest indicators that you have angered it. We’re talking about your temporomandibular joint, or, as it’s more commonly known, your TMJ.
Best TMJ pillows at a glance
- Best for neck support: TempurPedic, Tempur-Neck Pillow, $119
- Best firm pillow for TMJ: Zamat, Adjustable Cervical Memory Foam Pillow, $56
- Best TMJ pillow for side sleepers: PureComfort, Side Sleeping Pillow, $80
- Best TMJ pillow for back sleepers: Core Products, Tri-Core Cervical Support Pillow, $48
- Best organic pillow for TMJ: Beans72, Organic Buckwheat Pillow, $80
- Best breathable pillow for TMJ: Coyuchi, Turiya Organic Latex Pillow, $148
What is TMJ pain?
The TMJ is a hard-working joint that is easily affected by the structures surrounding it and, most notably, your neck. Think of the two as the Bonnie and Clyde of the upper anatomy, if one goes down, the other is likely to follow.
In fact, a 2015 study published in BioMed Research International found that pain in the neck region was associated with TMJ pain 70 percent of the time. “If you take your hand and place it right under the back of your ear, you can feel two pressure points. Those points are actually the sides of your first vertebrae. You can feel just how close they are to your TMJ,” says Mark Huntsinger, PT, DPT, a physical therapist based in Marina Del Ray, California. When the neck and TMJ are working together optimally, the first vertebrae are taking some pressure off the jaw. “So, when those upper neck joints get stiff and lockout, instead of this nice, smooth movement when we’re chewing or talking, all of the force goes right to our jaw,” says Huntsinger.
The good news? Using a special pillow can help relieve TMJ pain by keeping your head, neck, and shoulders in proper alignment while you sleep, reducing pressure on the joint. To help relieve TMJ pain, let one of the best TMJ pillows do the work while you sleep. Shop from six options below.
6 best TMJ pillows, according to physical therapists
Size options: S, M, L
The Tempur-Neck Pillow is made from Tempur-Pedic foam to ergonomically and comfortably support and align your body. The firm material maintains its shape to help your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed as well as supported. The firm material maintains its shape to help release neck pain by keeping your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed and supported. It has a removable, washable cover and comes in small, medium, and large sizes allowing you to get the best pillow for your body size and your preferred sleep position.
- Three size options
- Removable, washable cover
- Pricier option
Size options: One standard size
The Zamat Adjustable Cervical Memory Foam Pillow is designed to cradle your head, preventing your neck from rolling to either side while you sleep. It’s medium-hard with two different contour heights to keep your neck in alignment, as well as a breathable (and removable) cover for those of us who get hot-headed while we sleep. The edge of the Zamat Pillow has a contour that tucks between your neck and shoulders, protecting them from crunching together. Zamat also says that you can request an additional layer of foam if you find this pillow too thin.
- Can be used in all sleep positions
- Option to add more foam
- Highly rated
- May be too firm for some
- No size options
Size options: One standard size
Memory foam but make it specifically for a side-sleeper. As anyone with TMJ pain already knows, keeping your jaw in alignment while you sleep is hugely important if you want to limit pain during the day. That task is made more difficult if you are a regular side sleeper. The PureComfort Side Sleeper is a side-sleeper pillow, attempting to solve this problem with its signature cut-outs, designed to redistribute pressure away from the easy-to-tweak region encompassing your ear, jaw, and upper neck joints. It’s also available in a soft or standard firmness and features three removable foam inserts so you can adjust the height to your liking.
- Three adjustable foam inserts
- Ear holes for side sleepers
- Some customers say they wish it was larger
Size options: Petite, mid-sized, full-sized
This pillow from Core Products is designed to cradle your head while (as the name suggests) providing ample support for your cervical spine. Unlike the memory foam pillows on this list, the Tri-Core Cervical Support Pillow is made from a blend of polyester and cotton fibers, so it has more of a traditional pillow feel. It’s a great pick for back sleepers who want to feel cradled by their pillow from all angles. Plus, it comes in three sizes and three colors.
- Cradling design for back sleepers
- Several color and size options
- Requires regular fluffing
- No removable cover
Size options: Twin, Queen, King
Since TMJ pain typically occurs due to malalignment of the joints of the jaw which is directly related posturally to the position of the neck, it’s important to have a pillow that supports the natural neck curve, says Bianca Beldini, a physical therapist. Her recommendation is to use a buckwheat pillow, like this one from Beans72, which is filled with organic buckwheat hulls and unbleached cotton. You can push the hulls around to mold to your own neck, regardless of size, and even remove them until the fit is just right. “This support allows the jaw to relax and be placed into an anatomically correct position while sleeping,” she says.
- Made with organic buckwheat and organic cotton
- Adjusts to your neck curve
- Removable hulls
- Some customers report a rustling noise
- May be too firm for some
Sizes: One standard size
If you’re a hot sleeper, you’ll want to prioritize breathable materials. The Turiya Organic Latex Pillow from Coyuchi uses perforated, GOLS-certified organic latex foam to promote airflow while you sleep. Plus, this pick includes a GOTS-certified organic cotton cover that’s machine washable for easy care. Side and back sleepers alike will appreciate the cutouts for your ears and the cradling slot for your head—just note that some customers say it was a little tricky to get used to.
- Highly-rated, including from customers with TMJ pain
- Certified organic latex and cotton
- Priciest pick on this list
- May not suit those with a latex allergy
What pillows are best for TMJ?
By day, Huntsinger sees clients struggling with joint pain. By night, he serves as TikTok’s resident "pillow guy," going viral several times over for his explainers on how to use pillows to eliminate neck and back stiffness.
“The only, ‘absolutely no,’ I give people who are looking for a pillow is don’t get a down pillow," he says. "It doesn’t hold its shape, so you’re going to fall asleep in a different position than you’ll be in an hour later.” Other than that, Huntsinger recommends trial and error. “Some people do really well with memory foam, other people need something softer and less static, others, like me, need a pillow that can be bunched up and will hold that shape.”
In general, Huntsinger recommends a pillow that can be tucked between your head and shoulders while laying on your side or a pillow that prevents your neck from falling dramatically to either side while sleeping on your back.
Things to consider before buying
Materials: Some folks like the feel of memory foam, while others prefer a more traditional, fiber-filled pillow. Depending on the material inside, a TMJ pillow may provide a cradling sensation or a more buoyant, lifted feel, so it’s important to consider which materials you tend to find comfortable.
Your preferred sleep position: Compared to traditional, rectangular pillows, TMJ pillows are uniquely shaped. As a result, they’re not all great picks for the same sleep positions. Consider where you need the most support and where you’d like to feel cushioned while you snooze. Back sleepers will want cradling that prevents their head from dipping from side to side, and side sleepers will want plenty of cushion for their neck, jaw, and ears.
Removable covers: Pillows can get pretty gross and need regular washing. As a result, you’ll want to prioritize a pillow that has a removable cover and, ideally, a washable insert.
Return policy: Comfort is subjective, so finding the right TMJ pillow for you may take a little trial and error. Be sure to read up on the return policy and warranty of each pillow before you buy in case it winds up not being the one.
What is the best position to sleep in with TMJ?
Sleeping on your back is your best bet for reducing tension in your jaw muscles. However, while back sleeping can provide TMJ relief, it isn’t comfortable for everyone—if you’re unable to get comfortable on your back, a TMJ pillow that provides ample neck support may help you find pressure relief without changing your sleep style.
How do you relax your jaw while sleeping?
Before hitting the hay, consider working through some jaw tension relief exercises. You can try applying pressure to facial acupressure points, giving yourself a massage, or working through dentist-approved jaw stretches.
Should I use a pillow if I have TMJ?
Yes, but it’s important to find the right pillow. Sleeping without a pillow can increase the pressure on your neck and shoulders and lead to larger problems like neck and back pain. If you have TMJ pain, you’ll want to find a pillow that keeps your neck in comfortable alignment while relieving pressure on your jaw.
- Silveira, A et al. “Jaw dysfunction is associated with neck disability and muscle tenderness in subjects with and without chronic temporomandibular disorders.” BioMed research international vol. 2015 (2015): 512792. doi:10.1155/2015/512792
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