If you have ever struggled with pain in your jaw or jaw joints, pain around your ears, facial pain, difficulty chewing, a grinding noise while chewing, and stiffness of your jaw joints, you may have had what medical scientists call a TMJ disorder, or a disorder of your temporomandibular joints.
It’s a potentially serious condition that often goes undiagnosed.
If you’re lucky, the symptoms disappear on their own.
But according to a new study in the International Journal of Oral-Medical Sciences, certain common habits will prevent your TMJ disorder from healing and could even make it worse.
The authors of the paper recruited 112 subjects suffering from TMJ, and this comprised of 71 males and 41 females. They gave them two questionnaires to complete at the beginning of the study and again after an eight-month follow-up period.
The first questionnaire was the Oral Behavior Checklist, which asked them about something called parafunctional behaviors. These behaviors include teeth grinding, constant chewing, and other poor oral habits. The checklist included 21 of these.
The second questionnaire was one that assessed symptoms of the TMJ disorder, such as those listed at the beginning of this article.
By the end of the eight months, the students who changed their oral behaviors for the positive experienced the largest decrease in TMJ disorder symptoms.
Those who continued their parafunctional oral behaviors experienced very little improvement and, importantly, less improvement than one would have expected if the TMJ disorder had healed on its own.
In other words, refusing to change your parafunctional oral habits could slow down or even halt the normal healing process.
The two symptoms which the group who changed their oral habits improved the most in were the pain and noise that occurred when opening and closing their mouths.
Parafunctional oral habits include the following:
1. Grinding of your teeth, which scientists call bruxism. This can happen during the day, as a result of stress, or during the night while you’re asleep. Sometimes this can occur because of sleep disorders. Antidepressants, caffeine, and other drugs can also cause it.
2. Clenching your teeth, for the same reasons as above.
3. Non-nutritive sucking is any form of sucking that does not involve drinking. This includes thumb sucking and lip sucking, and unnecessarily overworks your temporomandibular joints.
4. Lip or fingernail biting. This does not just overwork your temporomandibular joints through unnecessary repetitive movements, but you often bite down at angles that are not as straight as when you chew food. This can lead the joints to fall out of alignment.
5. Excessive chewing gum chewing.
6. Holding objects in your mouth because your hands are full.
These are the ones you need to ditch if you want healthy temporomandibular joints and to recover quickly from TMJ disorders.