The 6 best strategies to reduce your risk for jaw problems
There are 22 bones in the face and head, but the lower jawbone—or mandible—is the only one of these that can move. The mandible connects to the temporal bone of the skull at two points just in front of each ear through the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). And as we discussed in our last newsletter, the TMJ is of interest not only because it allows us to move our jaw in multiple directions so we can talk, yawn, and chew, but also because it’s a common location of pain.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) affect over 10 million Americans, with a much higher prevalence in women than men. While TMD symptoms - like jaw pain and fatigue, dizziness, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, headaches, and pain around the ear—may not severely impair an individual’s ability to navigate the world, symptoms can certainly become a bothersome distraction and reduce your quality of life.
Another frustrating feature of TMDs we’ve already touched on is how experts are not entirely certain what mechanisms are responsible for their origin. While previous trauma to the jaw could play a part in some TMDs, in most cases there is no clear-cut cause. Repeated clenching or grinding of the teeth, bad posture, high stress levels, muscle spasms, and arthritis could all contribute, but it is often difficult to identify a single factor responsible. Although this uncertainty might lead you to believe that there’s not much you can do to avoid a TMD, this is not in fact the case. Based on what is known about TMDs, healthcare professionals believe that several strategies may be effective for reducing your risk. With this in mind, here are our 6 best tips for preventing TMDs:
6 Tips to Reduce Your Risk for TMDs
1) Be more careful with what and how you chew
- Avoid chewing gum
- Chew with both sides of your mouth
- Avoid eating too many hard or crunchy foods
- Take smaller bites of food
- Don’t bite on hard objects like pens or pencils
- Avoid biting your nails
2) Practice good posture
- Keep your head balanced and not hunched forwards, your shoulders straight, and torso aligned with your head and shoulders (with good posture, a straight line can be drawn from your ears to your shoulders)
- Avoid cradling your phone between your neck and shoulders
- Try not to regularly carry a heavy purse or backpack on one shoulder
- Consider using ergonomically designed products for your office setup
3) Avoid clenching and grinding: if you grind or clench your teeth on a regular basis, focus on reducing or eliminating this habit; becoming more conscious of your clenching, relaxing before bed, and using mouth guards and night splints could all help you work towards this goal.
4) Be aware of the position of your teeth: try to keep your tongue at the roof of your mouth and avoid letting your teeth touch; your teeth should be kept at least a few millimeters apart unless you’re chewing, and even then they should not be making much contact with one another.
5) Improve your sleeping habits: sleep on your back or side and avoid sleeping on your stomach, which can strain your jaw; make sure your pillow provides enough support for your head and neck.
6) Alleviate stress: if your stress levels are high, explore options to reduce your stress, including meditation, yoga, mindfulness practices, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Read our next post to learn about some simple remedies and treatments to try out if you’re dealing with any TDM-related symptoms.