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 each 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. However, stress-related reactions can wear down that cartilage, exposing nerve endings and creating jaw pain. In fact, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is highly sensitive to overall physical, emotional, and psychological stress. Further, it is affected by the mechanics of your bite and the condition of your jaw muscles. So, 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 dysfunction can cause a wide variety of mild to severe symptoms, from jaw clicking and minor discomfort to sharp pain in your temple, ear, jaw and teeth; it can also “lock” your jaw open or shut, or dislocate the jaw altogether.
TMJ is so common in our culture, that we automatically evaluate our patients for it with the goals of arresting the problem, protecting your teeth from further damage, and correcting any underlying bite malfunction. This may involve fitting you with a hard acrylic 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, relaxed neck, and side-sleeping position are also most helpful. To relieve soreness, light temple and jaw massage will stimulate circulation and relax the muscles, For actual bouts of pain, alternating moist heat and cold for 20 minutes will further increase circulation. Finally, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or analgesics can be very helpful as well.