Thursday, 28 February 2013

Jaw Joint Arthritis and a Soft Food Diet

I wanted to post about arthritis, jaw joints and diet today. Most people think of arthritis affecting knees, fingers and hips but truthfully it can attack any of the 350 or so joints in the body, and for some of us that includes the jaw or temperomandibular joints (TMJ). It's more common in those with the spondylitic forms (ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy) but can occur with other types.  

For me, suddenly getting sore jaw joints was the clincher that something was very wrong and made me push for a proper diagnosis. Jaw arthritis makes life very difficult: it's uncomfortable to eat, speak, lie on your face, open your mouth or even clean your teeth. The pain can radiate up to you temples, down your neck and make your cheeks ache. In short, jaw arthritis is Arthur at his most irritating. 

The difficulties with eating are perhaps the most challenging aspect to handle on a day-in, day-out basis because it tends to mean you need to stick to a soft food diet. For the first few months of my jaw being painful, I lived off a diet of  soup and yoghurt and lost a lot of weight. I was given sip feeds by the doctors to help increase my calorie intake but frankly they are generally disgusting and, more importantly, boring. Through trial and a lot of error I now eat a relatively varied diet and am an expert in soft-food cooking. Here are my top tips for getting a healthy diet if your jaw is affected by arthritis:

- Get a hand blender - you don't need to pulverise everything but it makes for super speedy soups and purées. 

- It can be difficult to get enough protein when chewing hurts. Most meat is off the menu but fish, omelettes ,scrambled eggs, yoghurt (especially low fat greek) and tofu are all excellent alternative protein sources. You can also try adding skimmed milk power or protein powders to oatmeal (porridge) and drinks to fortify them. 

- Grate, mash and puree vegetables to help you still get your five-a-day. Bake fruit like apples, pears and berries or turn tropical fruit into smoothies.

- Small pasta shapes (like soup pasta) are easier to eat or try vermicelli. Rice can be surprisingly chewy so stick to risottos or well-cooked white rice.

- If you find you are losing weight, don't be afraid of boosting the nutrition of your food by adding a little extra cream, olive or rapseeed oil, nut butters and soft cheese. Scoff icecream without guilt - there have to be some perks!

There are some wonderful soft food diet recipes on the lovely Food to Glow blog, and, of course, many of my recipes are jaw friendly so have a browse.


  1. Excellent post and advice, Kate. It's been many years (knock wood!) since I've had a painful flare in my jaw, but I remember the several incidents well. Fortunately, none of them lasted more than a couple of days, but at the time they made me feel a bit panicky. Being unable to chew or to speak and enunciate easily can be scary, and the pain is unreal. My heart goes out to you--how in the world did you manage with a flare in your jaw that lasted for months!? It's incredible, the things we can overcome when there is no other choice.

    I got along on mashed potatoes and gravy, microwaved instant oatmeal and yogurt. It's good to know that you and your blog are available to help with other, better choices.

  2. Thanks Wren. Lovely comment. Arthur pretty much lives in my jaw joints so I've gotten pretty used to it. I adore instant oatmeal, whenever we go to Canada or the US I stockpile the amazing flavours available - the ones in the UK are so much less interesting :)

    I really enjoyed your post about taking painkillers the other day. I think of it often when I sit eyeing the cocktail of tablets on my desk.



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