Kick These 5 Bad Habits & Reduce TMJ disorder discomfort
You’ve been diagnosed with TMJ disorder and you’re not sure what to do about it. Likely, you’re suffering from jaw pain or fatigue, ear pain, difficulty chewing and maybe your jaw is even locking. These symptoms can be more than annoying, they can be life-changing.
Did you know that your actions may be causing your TMD? Sometimes we are our own worst enemies and that is often true for patients suffering from TMD. Symptoms of orofacial disorders can be reduced by taking conscious action against the habits that may cause your suffering. If you do not require immediate treatment for jaw pain or another symptom, you may be able to slow down the onset of TMD symptoms by stopping these all too common bad habits.
What are five bad bad habits that cause TMJ disorder?
1. Take Your Teeth Out of the Toolbox
Are you using your teeth as scissors? Or pliers? Cut it out! Studies have shown that people who use their teeth as tools are more likely to develop TMJ disorder. They are working their jaws on tasks that teeth and jaws have no business doing. Teeth are built to withstand vertical forces, not lateral forces. Not only will you end up damaging your teeth, affecting your appearance, but it may be at the heart of the pain you’re suffering from TMD.
What can you do about your bad habit?
- Keep a small pair of scissors handy: Keep them in your purse. You could also buy a pocketknife.
- Raise your awareness: Keep a log and write down every time you use your teeth as tools. Also log your successes.
2. Get Away From the Daily Grind
Statistics show that 85% of TMJ cases are acquired due to lifestyle while only 15% of cases are genetic. And one of the most common ways that people develop TMD is through teeth grinding (medically called bruxism). Grinding your teeth from stress or at night while you sleep is a leading cause of jaw discomfort.
Why do people grind their teeth?
- Stress or anxiety
- Abnormal bite
- Crooked or missing teeth
- Sleep apnea
What can you do about teeth grinding?
- See a dentist: Your family dentist can provide an analysis of your bite to determine if some simple adjustments may help your jaw relax.
- Wear a mouth guard at night: Mouth guards place your jaw in a relaxed position and prevent grinding.
- Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can cause anxiety, leading to teeth grinding (bruxism) during the day or night.
- See a sleep specialist: People with sleep apnea often also suffer from TMD due to teeth grinding.
- Train your muscles: Use the same log we talked about in Bad Habit #1 and write down every time you catch yourself grinding.
- Learn relaxation techniques: Meditation and conscious breathing techniques have been shown to reduce teeth grinding.
3. Quit Nibbling Those Nails
Studies show that nail biters often suffer from TMJ disorder. How is it linked? By using your teeth as nail clippers, you are using your jaw muscles in ways they weren’t meant to work causing disc displacement. A recent study showed that more than 20% of nail biters also suffered from TMD.
What can you do about nail biting?
- Keep your nails trimmed: If your nails are tidy, you’re less likely to gnaw on them.
- Purchase polish that deters nail biting: Examples include Bitter Nail, Bite No More and Mavala.
- Journal: Again, raise your awareness by writing down the times you catch yourself biting those nails.
4. Eat Good. Feel Good.
Give your teeth a break by avoiding foods that can cause jaw discomfort. Known as “high impact foods,” the following foods are crunchy or make your jaw twist in unnatural ways. Avoid them and improve your jaw’s health:
- Any food that is so large that you have to open your mouth very wide
- Sticky or chewy items, like caramel apple or candy bars
- Hard or crunchy foods such as apples, pretzels or raw carrots
- Crunchy cereals
- Tough steak
Instead, many maxillofacial specialists will recommend a soft diet to reduce inflammation and stress on the TMJ.
5. Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire!
In 2013 Studies showed that there is a significant correlation between the pain in female TMJ sufferers and use of tobacco cigarettes. Of patients with TMD, this study actually found, “Smokers reported significantly higher pain severity, impairment, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances than nonsmokers.” It also concluded that “Smokers with TMD reported higher pain severity than nonsmokers with TMD. These patients are at higher risk for factors that may adversely affect treatment outcomes.”
TMJ disorder pain is another good reason to break the smoking habit. Here are some tips to help:
- Prescriptions: The American Cancer Society says, “Bupropion (brand names are Zyban®, Wellbutrin®, or Aplenzin®) is a prescription anti-depressant in an extended-release form that reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It does not contain nicotine.” Learn more here.
- The patch: WebMD says, “To help smokers manage nicotine withdrawal, nicotine replacement therapies deliver the potent drug in ways that are far healthier and safer than cigarettes.”
- Support: SmokeFree.gov is a great resource for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit.
- Cold turkey: WebMD says, “About 90% of people who try to quit smoking do it without outside support — no aids, therapy, or medicine.”