If you’re among those who experience the persistent discomfort of chronic jaw pain, the unsettling clicking of your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), or a range of other distressing TMJ symptoms, you’re likely eager to find relief and, just as importantly, avoid anything that could exacerbate your condition.
The road to managing TMJ disorders can be challenging, and steering clear of habits and behaviors that might trigger or worsen TMJ flare-ups becomes paramount.
Temporomandibular joint disorders, commonly known as TMJ disorders or TMD, can bring about a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including jaw pain, headaches, earaches, and difficulty in fully opening or closing the mouth.
While finding effective treatments for TMJ disorders is essential, it’s equally crucial to recognize and address those habits and actions that could inadvertently contribute to your discomfort.
Let’s explore common habits that can potentially worsen TMJ symptoms and lifestyle adjustments you can make to manage and mitigate these TMJ effects cost effectively:
6 Things that Make TMJ Worse
1. Clenching and Grinding Teeth
Excessive clenching or grinding puts tremendous strain on the temporomandibular joint. This chronic overuse results in:
- Fatigue and stretching of ligaments anchoring jaw position.
- Compression arthritis as cartilage wears down.
- Damage to the articular disc cushioning the joint.
- Muscle spasms and contractions exacerbating pain.
- The use of a mouthguard or splint, especially at night when bruxism is often more prevalent, can help cushion and protect the teeth and jaw.
- Stress reduction techniques and relaxation exercises can also be effective in managing bruxism.
2. Chewing Gum
While it seems it would help TMJ, the repeated jaw motions of prolonged gum chewing have drawbacks:
- Overworks the joint, leading to inflammation and lax ligaments.
- Triggers muscle cramping and spasm from repetitive motion.
- Sticks to and pulls on dental restorations.
- Causes jaw soreness and tension headaches.
- Reducing or eliminating gum-chewing can help alleviate TMJ stress.
- If you feel the need to freshen your breath, consider using sugar-free mints or breath sprays as an alternative.
- Give overused jaw musculature frequent rest.
3. Opening Wide
Actions requiring maximum jaw opening like biting a big apple, wide yawning, or oral procedures over-stretch the joint. This leads to:
- Impinging ligaments and tendons.
- Agitating the disc.
- Muscle and joint soreness afterward.
- Be mindful of how wide you open your mouth. Avoid maximal opening.
- Modify dental procedures as needed to accommodate limitations.
- Take smaller bites when eating, and if you need to yawn, try to do so gently.
- Additionally, practicing jaw relaxation exercises can help reduce tension.
4. Poor Posture
Slumped posture misaligns the spine, face, and jaw joints. This throws off ideal jaw mechanics and adds strain.
- Maintain good posture by keeping your head aligned with your spine. Keep the ears, shoulders, and hips aligned when sitting or moving.
- Use ergonomic chairs and support for your back and neck, especially if you have a desk job. This can help reduce unnecessary strain on the jaw and TMJ.
5. Excessive Talking or Smiling
While done infrequently, activities requiring prolonged speech or smiling can irritate TMJ after time. The muscles get overworked controlling these repetitive motions.
- Take short breaks (at the first twinge of fatigue) during conversations or social interactions to rest your jaw muscles. Don’t push through pain.
- Engage in relaxation techniques to ease jaw tension.
If you find yourself smiling often (which is generally a positive thing), be aware of any discomfort and take brief pauses to relax your jaw.
6. Stress and Emotions
When stressed or emotional, many unconsciously clench their jaws or tighten facial muscles. This tension strains TMJ components without realizing it.
- Address sources of anxiety and learn relaxation techniques to control unconscious habits. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help reduce tension.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling can also be beneficial in addressing stress-related TMJ issues by addressing the emotional triggers.
Recognizing your personal TMJ triggers provides key targets to eliminate. By being mindful of these factors and taking proactive steps to manage them, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of aggravating your TMJ symptoms and work towards finding lasting relief from TMJ-related discomfort.