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, trauma, an improper bite, or unknown reasons can cause the joints to dysfunction, exposing nerve endings to create pain. In fact, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) 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. Some past trauma, 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.
How Can I Treat My TMJ Dysfunction?
The condition is very common in our culture, so they evaluate every patient for TMJ dysfunction at their regular dental exam. If they 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, called a Tanner appliance, that allows Dr. Mace to make you comfortable and determine where your jaw is best positioned. Once this position is determined, you and Dr. Mace can decide if any further treatment is in your best interest. He may also suggest ways to alleviate stress and recommend 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, relaxed neck, and back-sleeping position are also helpful. To relieve soreness, light temple and jaw massage will stimulate circulation and relax the muscles. Vitamin supplements and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or analgesics can be very helpful as well. Certain TMD case types may require referral to a trusted specialist for evaluation.