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7 Daily Habits That Could Be Making Your TMJ Worse

adult woman holding her jaw in pain
Symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) can be very disruptive to your day. Jaw pain, headaches, ringing in the ears, and other symptoms can make it hard for you to work and especially hard for you to enjoy your day. You might find yourself leaning too heavily on pain medication, which comes with its own risks. Are you hoping for a way to control your symptoms at home? There might be. As part of home care for TMJ, consider whether these habits might contribute to your TMJ. If so, cut them out or reduce them. You might see less TMJ-related pain and other symptoms. 

If cutting out these habits or other home care makes your TMJ worse or doesn’t improve it after a week, you might need professional care. Please contact Woburn and Winchester TMJ dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy for an appointment. 

#1 Chewing Gum

Chewing gum can have some benefits for your oral health. Chewing sugar-free gum after a meal removes food debris and bacteria from your mouth, helping clean it. 

However, as with many good habits, it’s possible to do it too much, leading to health problems. In this case, chewing gum too much is linked to an increased risk of TMJ symptoms, including ear pain, jaw pain, joint noises, and more. 

How much is too much? Studies suggest that approximately four hours is the threshold for jaw damage. However, if you’re regularly chewing gum for a significant portion of the day, it might be time to evaluate your habit and see if it’s contributing to your TMJ. 

#2 Consuming Caffeine

Here in Woburn and Winchester, we love our coffee. When Men’s Health magazine looked at coffee consumption in America’s 100 largest cities, they ranked #15. That’s not even factoring in our love of tea and other sources of caffeine. As a result, we consume a lot of caffeine daily, which can contribute to TMJ. 

High caffeine consumption is linked to an increased risk of bruxism, teeth clenching and grinding. Although it isn’t the only cause, teeth clenching and grinding can contribute to TMJ risk. How much coffee does it take to increase your risk? In one review of research, people who drank 8 cups of coffee a day had a 50% higher risk of sleep bruxism. Note that these are 8-ounce cups, so your Starbucks Venti counts as two and a half cups (20 oz). 

#3 Drinking Alcohol

Another possible daily source of bruxism risk is alcohol consumption. Woburn and Winchester also ranks relatively high in alcohol consumption, with a higher rate of binge drinking than the nationwide average

The same review of the above research showed that alcohol consumption doubled the risk of sleep bruxism without noting a consumption threshold. 

#4 Working Out

Getting exercise is important for your health. It not only helps your heart stay fit and keeps your weight down, but it can also improve your psychological well-being. Working out releases endorphins that can boost your mood. Unfortunately, sometimes working out can increase your risk of developing TMJ. 

Your jaw plays an important role in stabilizing your core. Whenever you are trying to achieve maximum force from your muscles, such as when you’re lifting weights or giving 100% in competitions, you might find yourself clenching your teeth. If you don’t have healthy occlusion, this can not only damage your teeth, it can damage your jaw, leading to or worsening TMJ. 

Check out our blog on how exercise can contribute to TMJ for more details. 

#5 Wearing Earbuds

Earbuds are a great innovation in many ways. They’re small and discreet, plus they can provide great sound quality while blocking out the sounds you don’t want to hear when you’re listening to tunes or having a conversation. However, earbuds can also contribute to your TMJ risk. 

As your jaw moves, it changes the size and shape of your ear canals. If you have earbuds in, it can restrict these changes, which prevents your jaw from functioning naturally. Over time, this can contribute to TMJ symptoms. 

Try to minimize time using your jaw while wearing earbuds. This means taking your earbuds out when eating or chewing gum and minimizing phone calls using an earpiece. However, remember that your jaw is constantly working, facilitating breathing, swallowing saliva, and more, so take regular breaks from wearing earbuds no matter what. 

#6 Getting Stressed 

Stress might not seem like a daily habit, but for most of us, it actually is. Recent studies suggest that 55% of Americans are stressed on a daily basis

Daily stress can contribute to bruxism, and bruxism can lead to TMJ. Controlling stress can help you reduce your risk of developing TMJ. This isn’t always easy, but it offers many additional health benefits, including reduced heart risk, so it’s worth trying, even if it means seeking professional help. 

#7 Nervous Chewing

Our teeth and jaws are configured for chewing food. Food might be harder or softer, but it will yield to our teeth. However, that’s not the case for many things we chew nervously. Pens, pencils, and fingernails are all common foci of nervous chewing. Biting down on these hard, unyielding objects places stress on your temporomandibular joints, leading to joint damage and then TMJ/TMD. 

Do your best to try to avoid nervous chewing habits that can stress or damage your jaw joints. If you find you can’t stop, a therapist might be able to help. 

Still Have TMJ Symptoms in Woburn and Winchester?

Have you reviewed our list and found that you either don’t do these things or cut them out but still have TMJ symptoms? If that’s the case, you might need professional TMJ treatment. Woburn and Winchester TMJ dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy is here to help. 

Please call (781) 396-8558 or use our online form to request an appointment at Divine Smiles, serving Woburn and Winchester, in Horn Pond Plaza across from Whole Foods. 

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By Ryan M. Clancy, DMD, MAGD, LVIF, FPFA, FIAPA | March 8th, 2023 | TMJ

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