Science + Tech

Everyday habits that contribute to jaw pain and TMD symptoms

If you’ve ever experienced temporomandibular disorder (TMD), then you know that the pain can be debilitating. Those who suffer from TMD may struggle to talk, eat or generally use their jaws. Many people begin forgoing their favorite foods or even skipping meals altogether. Others avoid conversations because it hurts too much to talk.

TMD (also referred to as TMJ, or temporomandibular joint syndrome) affects the temporomandibular joints and muscles that connect the jaw to the rest of the skull. These muscles nearly reach the ears, so TMD can cause severe pain across much of the face. The pain is often most severe when the muscles and joints are used in some activity such as chewing. TMD is sometimes accompanied by a clicking sound when the jaw is moved.

TMD can be detrimental to your quality of life. Sadly, many everyday habits can cause or aggravate this condition.

Bad habits that can cause TMD

Many “bad habits” can lead to the onset of TMD. For example, the simple habit of clenching your jaw while concentrating can cause it. Grinding your teeth is another common cause. If you frequently clench your jaw for any reason, even in your sleep, you may end up suffering from TMD. In these cases, the jaw is being exposed to too much pressure, which can damage the joint and strain the muscles around it.

Biting your nails may also cause TMD. When you bite your nails, you typically move your jaw in ways it’s not really meant to. And it should go without saying, but you shouldn’t use your teeth as scissors to tear open packages or any other kind of container. Smoking also can cause for TMD.

Everyday activities can cause TMD 

Many seemingly innocuous activities can contribute to TMD, as well. Do you have a tendency to prop up your head with your hands? If so, pay attention to how your jaw feels. Feeling pain? That hand prop might be the cause.

Many people love hard candies, nuts and other hard, crunchy foods. Whenever you’re snacking on such foods, you need to be careful, especially if your jaw is feeling sore. By the way, chewing on ice isn’t likely to crack your teeth, but it could still cause or aggravate TMD.

Meanwhile, if you engage in heavy physical activity, like playing soccer, you have to be careful as head injuries can also cause TMD. You might be worrying about your legs and avoiding errant kicks, but if you bump heads with someone else or are struck in the face by a ball, you could injure your jaw.

Our jaws are powerful and essential parts of our body. Every time we talk or eat, we put them to use. Unfortunately, they are both strong and fragile, and your everyday habits could inadvertently be wearing down your jaw’s joints and muscles. So make sure you’re holding your chin high and avoiding the habits listed above, and that you’re advising your patients to do so as well. This could help you avoid a painful but preventable case of TMD.

~Dr. Katherine Phillips

Dr. Katherine Phillips

Dr. Katherine Phillips received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her dental degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. She currently serves as the Secretary/Treasurer on the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) Board of Directors and treats TMJ and sleep related disorders at Restore TMJ & Sleep Therapy.

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