Your TMJ is the point in the mouth where your lower and upper jaws both come together, allowing you to enjoy the ability to open, close and chew the way you do every day. It’s structurally critical for your dental health and quality of life. However, the TMJ can be impacted easily and start causing problems if you develop bad habits, such as grinding and clenching your teeth.
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint. Most people don’t know what the TMJ is until they start feeling soreness in the area, or hear some worrying clicks in the jaw. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can create TMJ problems which can be complex to fix if they’re not attended to urgently.
Normally the TMJ takes care of itself, but these bad habits can damage it quickly and lead to TMD which stands for temporomandibular joint disorders. The origin of TMD can be purely from muscles around the jaw joint or from the cartilage disc, ligaments or the bony joint itself, or simply a combination of all these different elements. Your dentist or TMJ specialist will be able to pin-point and determine the cause and devise appropriate treatment options for you. TMD can be incredibly uncomfortable and prevents you from eating, drinking or even talking without feeling acute pain.
There are some easy ways you can prevent TMJ problems which are important to know. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ward off TMJ problems or ease the symptoms you might be feeling.
Rest With Your Teeth Apart
Take a moment to notice how your mouth rests when it’s not being used. Are your lips together? Are your teeth touching? If your teeth sit together in a resting position you might be grinding or clenching them without realising, both during the day and when you are sleeping. Most people don’t actually realise they have been grinding for years and often this detrimental habit is noticed by your partner/family member because people grind with the worst froce when you are in your deepest sleep.
If this is the case, remember to relax and let go of the tension in your face and mouth regularly. This can be difficult at first if you’re not used to it, so start by intentionally relaxing the area a few times a day and build from there.
Massage Your Cheeks, Jaw And Temples
Giving your face a small massage in the right areas will loosen up the muscles and joints, which reminds your body to relax. Tension can build quickly in the mouth and rubbing areas such as cheeks, around your jaw (to the front of the ears) and temples next to your eyes are great for this. Stretching also helps.
If teeth grinding is currently a problem for you, try these tips for a couple of weeks as it can really make a big difference – particularly at times when your jaw is needed.
Check Your Diet
One great way to avoid putting too much pressure on your jaw bones is lowering the chewy and hard foods in your diet. We clench our jaw more than we think when eating. If your diet contains plenty of food that causes this, eliminating them can greatly enhance your dental health.
Food such as chewing gum, hard candy, nuts and confectionery should be avoided. Keep things simple, and be mindful of your jaw movement whenever you’re eating or drinking. Another tip is to think about chewing with both sides of the mouth equally, and take smaller bites of your food to keep the jaw in control.
Reset Your Posture
It’s a little-known fact that posture plays a role in dental health. How you sit and how you use your back informs the muscle tension and weight that’s placed on your neck. This, in turn, affects your facial muscles and movement of the jaw.
Try to improve your posture by sitting up straight at all times, and keeping your neck and head balanced on top. Many people have a tendency to lean their head forwards or sit in positions that push on the neck. This connects to the mouth which can make teeth grinding a problem. Consider getting yourself some ergonomic furniture to fix this up.
Change Your Habits
Usually, TMJ problems flare up as a result of habits related to chewing or biting. This includes things like biting your fingernails, chewing the ends of pens and pencils, chewing your cuticles and similar.
Further, how you use your jaw when you’re not thinking about it can affect symptoms as well. Some good tips are to avoid resting your chin on your hand and cradling your phone with your shoulder when you use it. If you’re already feeling TMJ soreness it’s also a good idea to support your jaw with your hand when you yawn.
At the end of the day, knowing how to prevent TMJ problems is small but valuable knowledge when it comes to protecting dental health. Follow the tips above and you’ll never have to worry about jaw soreness again. If you’re already feeling some pain or for a more tailored treatment plan for your individual situation, contact your local dentist and make an appointment to discuss it.
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