Joints are that part of the body where two bones meet! Without joints, any body movement would be impossible. Joints provide overall flexibility to the body. Having strong bones and a healthy joint goes hand in hand. To maintain the health and normal functioning of joints, it is important to keep bones, muscles, and ligaments strong and stable. Like any other joint in the body, the jaw joint is no exception to this theory. The jaw joint known as ‘Temporomandibular joint’ or ‘TMJ’ is the most vital structure of the Oro-facial region.
What is the importance of your jaw joint?
The TMJ is located at the front of the middle ear on each side separating the jaw bone called the mandible (jaw joint) from the skull ie the temporal bone. Hence, it is called as ‘temporomandibular joint’. There are a host of crucial functions that the jaw joint performs like chewing food, swallowing, speaking, all the movements related to the lower jaw such as forward, backward, side to side movements, opening and closing of the mouth, facial expressions, and sucking. Apart from these functions, the jaw joint also aids in complex functions like maintaining the pressure of the middle ear and breathing! Thus, any injury, disease, or harmful habits deteriorating the normal functioning of jaw joint can literally put all these activities at stake too!
What is a para functional habit?
A para-functional habit is defined as the habitual exercise of a body part in a way that is other than the most common use of that body part. It is mostly referred to as the para-functional use of mouth, tongue and jaw. It is actually a non-functional activity that causes damage to the entire dento-facial region. So what are the different parafunctional habits and how do they harm your jaw joint?
Teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw
Teeth grinding or clenching of jaws is an involuntary activity that involves teeth-gnashing and grinding and is also known as ‘Bruxism’. Bruxism can occur either when an individual is awake called as ‘awake bruxism’ or during sleep called ‘sleep bruxism’. In awake bruxism, individuals clench their jaws and brace the jaws without the teeth being in contact ie there is no teeth grinding.
On the contrary, sleep bruxism is a type of movement disorder that causes the individual to clench and grind their teeth during sleep. According to studies, females are more prone to awake bruxism due to stress and anxiety and affects almost 20% of the population. The causative factors for sleep bruxism are stress, anxiety, underlying neurological or psychiatric disorders like Parkinson’s disease or side-effects of some medications.
Teeth grinding in mild form can be relatively harmless. But moderate to severe forms of teeth grinding can cause jaw joint and masticatory muscle pain, jaw locking, jaw muscle tightness and fatigue, pain while opening the mouth, and muscle soreness. At times, an individual experiences jaw joint stiffness and pain at the site of the joint while opening the mouth, typically while awake in the morning which clearly indicates severe teeth grinding and gnashing at night. Teeth grinding and clenching is the most common of all the para-functional habits to cause disorders of the TMJ and have an occurrence of about 90% in the general population.
How does bruxism cause jaw pain ?
According to studies, the excessive force caused during teeth clenching and grinding exceeds that of the normal masticatory forces. Normally, the teeth are in contact hardly for 20 minutes out of 24 hours for chewing food and swallowing. Thus, the excessive force exerted due to teeth grinding that too for a prolonged period subjects to the breakdown of the weakest structure ie the TMJ causing pain at the site of the joint.
Avoid chewing from one side of the mouth
Habitual chewing from only one side is the most predominant trait in the general population. Not many people are aware of its harmful side-effects and hence continue with this habit for a long time. Prolonged chewing from only one side of the mouth can not only damage the bite but can cause facial asymmetry and has a negative impact on the jaw joint or TMJ. One side chewing can lead to an unequal distribution of the load on the TMJ due to overuse of jaw muscles and joint only on one side.
The jaw joint is designed to work together in synchronicity, but chewing on one side for a long time can cause excessive stress on one side of the jaw. This results in tilting of the joint and obvious facial unevenness. Furthermore, excessive use of only one side of the mouth can cause tooth wear aggravating the range of motion of the TMJ. Habitual chewing on one side causes excessive wearing of the teeth on the chewing side causing the jaw to move irregularly on one side causing stress on the other side of the joint and vice-versa.
Disturbing side effects of chewing gums
Chewing sugar-free gums have numerous benefits like it freshens up the breath, increases the saliva production etc. But like any other habit if in moderation can be beneficial and if uncontrolled can be very devastating too. Accordingly, when we chew gums, it is in a way exercising of jaw muscles but continuous long hours of chewing gums can lead to over working and tiring of these muscles resulting in muscle fatigue and painful spasms in the jaw causing a condition called as temporomandibular dysfunction or TMD. This condition develops due to the misalignment of the jaw joint because of excessive stress on the joint. Chewing gums for long hours is the leading cause of this type of TMJ damage.
Avoid using your teeth as tools
Many people have a bad habit of using their teeth as a tool to cut or open something like-
- Opening bottles, plastic packages.
- Chewing objects such as pen caps, pencils, chains, toothpicks
- Holding items like threads, needles in between teeth.
Remember, involving teeth and mouth for such activities unknowingly puts too much load on the TMJ and can even cause a clicking of the TMJ, pain and soreness of muscles.
Check your posture
The slouching sitting posture that most people are guilty of not only causes backaches but is also the reason behind jaw pain. The slouching posture leads to forward positioning of the head which creates unnecessary tension on the muscles attached to the TMJ. The altered muscle tension causes jaw compression which leads to pain and clicking of the joint and even jaw deviation.
Say no to hard foods
Just like the teeth and mouth cannot be used to bite on or hold any hard or inedible items, they are not supposed to bite on extremely hard foodstuff too. Diets rich in very hard and sticky foods can be a potential factor contributing to jaw pain. The TMJ can withstand a certain amount of masticatory load but and any extra force exerted while chewing on very hard food can suddenly induce pain in the jaw joint. Studies have reported that the texture and hardness of the food can majorly influence the jaw movement and can also cause pain at the site of joint. Thus, extremely hard food such as meat, sticky candies and toffies, junk food, raw vegetables, or even biting on ice cubes should be avoided.
The bottom line
The ability of the Temporomandibular joint to function properly depends on the balance and harmony of various structures associated with the joint, habits, diet etc. Any variation or distortion related to teeth, muscles, posture, habits, diet can have a cascade effect on the TMJ.
- The prevalence of TMJ disorders varies between 5% to 12% and has a higher incidence in younger individuals.
- The prevalence of temporomandibular dysfunction in females is twice that of males with higher risk in females on supplemental estrogen or oral contraceptives.
- Limit the parafunctional habits such as teeth grinding and clenching, lip biting, nail biting, chewing gums excessively.
- Avoid resting hands on chin for a prolonged time.
- Stress more on soft, cooked and nutritious food.
- Avoid crunchy, hard, sticky food.
- Avoid sleeping on the prone position.
- Practice face yoga or some jaw exercises to relax the jaw.
- Reach out to the dentist in case you feel any click sound while you open that mouth wide.
Great article about protecting the jaw point.Thanks for this article.
Thankyou for the genuine feedback.