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 is highly sensitive
to overall physical, emotional and psychological stress. Further,
it's 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 TMD 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.
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