Managing Stress to Help Your Jaw Rest
You may spend most of your life unaware of the important little triangular-shaped joints located in front of your ears. Lined with cartilage, these joints move with a smooth, gliding motion. Under normal conditions, they join your lower jaw and temporal bone, allowing your mouth to open and close easily. However, stress or an improper bite can cause the joints to dysfunction, exposing nerve endings to create pain. In fact, the temporomandibular joint is highly sensitive to overall physical, emotional, and psychological stress. It is affected by the mechanics of your bite and the condition of your jaw muscles. A little extra stress, a little extra fatigue, a little change in your bite, and you may temporarily knock the whole system out of balance. The resulting TMJ disorder, or TMD, can create a variety of mild to severe symptoms, from jaw clicking and minor discomfort to sharp pain in your temple, ear, neck, and shoulders.
The condition is very common in our culture, so we evaluate patients for TMJ dysfunction at their regular dental exam. If we detect a problem, our goals are to arrest it, protect teeth from further damage, and correct underlying bite misalignment. Therapy may involve fitting you with a physiologic bite appliance, suggesting ways to alleviate stress, and recommending symptom relief measures. Typically, TMJ patients need to avoid chewing gum or hard, chewy food, take small bites, and alternate chewing between both sides of the mouth. Good nutrition will help the joint heal more quickly; good posture will also help relieve discomfort. A straight back and relaxed neck is also helpful. To relieve soreness, light temple and jaw massage will stimulate circulation and relax the muscles. If pain is present, we suggest alternating moist heat and cold for 20 minutes to further increase circulation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or analgesics can be very helpful as well.