Everyday habits can affect your health in many ways, including the health and state of your jaw joints (TMJ). While our TMJ specialists at the Headache and TMJ Center of New Jersey can personalize your treatment plan to relieve your symptoms, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to improve your jaw pain and related issues.
1. Excessive Stress
Some stress is normal, but extreme stress from overworking your mind and body can strain your muscles. You may grind or clench your teeth (bruxism) without realizing it when you’re going through your day or sleeping. You may find yourself nervously chewing on a pen or biting your nails. Decreasing your stress levels through more breaks, yoga or meditation and taking a short walk can have a positive impact on your TMJ disorder.
2. Using Your Teeth as Tools
Your teeth are designed for eating, not for use as adjunct tools — so avoid using them to remove hangnails or open stubborn packages. It’s best to take the extra few seconds to grab some scissors, a nail file or a bottle opener than risk harming your jaw muscles and affecting the temporomandibular joint function. The force of using your teeth as tools aggravates TMJ disorders and can also lead to chips and cracks in your teeth.
3. Chewing Gum, Ice Cubes or Pencils
Many people struggle with this habit whether they are nervous, stressed or bored. Chewing on ice cubes, pens or pencils is especially bad for your teeth and risks premature wear, chips and cracks, but these habits and chewing gum also worsen TMJ disorders. The unnecessary chewing aggravates the jaw joints, causing soreness. People chew on gum for an average of 20 minutes per piece, which strains the jaw even more.
Another chewing habit that may aggravate TMD is chewing on one side of the mouth more than the other. You may instinctively do this if you have tooth sensitivity on one side of your mouth or untreated tooth decay. This habit overworks one jaw joint while ignoring the other.
4. Poor Posture and Stomach Sleeping
Proper posture and sleeping position can improve or worsen your TMD symptoms. The back and neck problems caused by slouching contribute to TMJ pain because your jaw muscles must work harder to open and close the jaw when your body is curved. The jaw works best when your head is above the cervical spine, which requires straight posture. Resting your hands underneath your chin may push the jaw back against the TMJ and move the disc out of place, creating problems opening and closing the jaw.
Sleeping on your stomach puts added pressure on the jaw because the head, neck and back are misaligned. Back sleeping with a supportive pillow under your head can improve that stress on your jaw joints. Previous injury to the jaw, head or neck or medical conditions such as osteoarthritis may cause further TMJ issues.
5. Taking Large Bites of Food
You strain your jaw when you take bites of food that are too large for your mouth. Your jaw must open wider to accommodate the bigger bites, which aggravates TMJ pain and may worsen jaw popping, locking or clicking symptoms. When you eat, give your jaw a rest by taking smaller bites to enjoy your food slower.
Contact the Headache and TMJ Center of New Jersey
If you struggle with jaw pain, contact our TMJ specialists in New Jersey to schedule your neuromuscular evaluation and see if a TMJ disorder is the culprit behind your discomfort.