The holidays can certainly be a stressful time of year. You may notice that you are someone who tends to clench your teeth during stressful times. Too much of this clenching can lead to pain and compromise your jaw, or temporomandibular joints.
TMJD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) or TMD is the second most common musculoskeletal condition (after chronic low back pain). Like many chronic conditions, TMD is multifactorial. Oftentimes, patients complain of tooth or jaw pain in the morning if they have been clenching or grinding their teeth at night. You may even wake up with a headache, since the temporal muscles of your head function to close your jaw during clenching and grinding. Clenching, bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding), chewing gum, and biting nails are all examples of parafunctional oral habits. They are not related to the normal functions of the jaw – eating, talking chewing, laughing, etc. Considering that TMD is influenced by multiple factors, treatment should involve care from multiple avenues.
Discussing concerns with your dentist and physical therapist is a good first step. As TMD is often correlated with stress or anxiety, speaking to a health psychologist may also be appropriate. We are all here to help you.
This holiday season, don’t take your stress out on your jaw! Think TATU – Teeth Apart, Tongue Up, as if you are saying the letter “N.” This is the natural rest position of the jaw.