Can You Prevent TMJ?
Is it possible to prevent TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)? Perhaps you can. For many patients, the underlying cause of TMJ is never identified. However, some of the known causes of TMJ can be avoided or treated before they cause too much jaw pain or dysfunction. Here are 10 steps you can take to lower your risk of developing chronic or advanced TMJ.
- Stress less. Muscle tension and related habits like jaw clenching are a common cause of TMJ. You may try relaxation techniques including deep breathing, meditation or gentle jaw exercises to release tension and keep your jaw muscles loose and mobile.
- Give your chewer a break. The foods you eat can overwork your jaw. Hard or very sticky foods can lead to a tired and sore jaw. Chewing gum all day is a habit you’ll want to break if you are serious about avoiding TMJ.
- Address grinding early. Your dentist may notice signs of bruxism (tooth grinding) during your dental exam. Get fitted with a splint (a plastic night guard) to limit this habit. This type of removable orthodontic device can give you relief from night time grinding and lessen swelling and muscle spasms in your jaw.
- Pay attention to posture. Hunching over a computer all day can lead to all sorts of back, neck and shoulder problems. Tension in these areas may travel up to your jaw and contribute to TMJ symptoms. Good ergonomics can help you keep your whole upper body relaxed and less prone to muscle spasms and repetitive stress injury.
- Wear safety gear. This includes everything from wearing a seatbelt when you drive to donning a face guard before engaging in contact sports. Any time your face gets struck, even if it isn’t hard enough to break or dislocate the jaw, you may end up with painful swelling in your jaw.
- Pamper your jaw after a dental appointment. Any dental procedure that requires you to hold your mouth in a wide open position for a long period can lead to temporary TMJ symptoms. Use a warm compress several times per day to relax your jaw after any extensive dental treatment.
- Exercise! Your jaw may benefit from a good workout and stretching routine. There are many simple TMJ exercises you can do at home to train your jaw muscles to move properly and to stretch and loosen the tendons to help your jaw move smoothly. Check with a physical therapist or your dentist to see which exercises they advise.
- Treat yourself to a massage. In addition to performing jaw exercises, you may find that gently massaging your jaw joints with your fingertips helps keep your jaw limber and pain free.
- Reduce swelling. Sometimes, you can catch TMJ early and reverse it with home remedies like ice packs, heating pads and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Use these measures when you first notice jaw soreness. Give your jaw a break by eating soft foods for a few days as well. These simple steps can give the inflammation a chance to go down and let your jaw heal itself.
- Get your bite right. A misaligned bite can be a factor in TMJ. An orthodontist may be able to use braces or other appliances to bring your bite into proper alignment. This takes pressure off your jaw and normalizes your chewing function.