While your conscious brain focuses on one task, you often perform unconscious habits. You might form good habits, such as glancing at your rearview mirror before changing lanes. You might also form bad ones, such as chewing on your nails while working on projects. Some harmful habits can cause or exacerbate a painful jaw condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). TMJ occurs when your jaw joints become misaligned. Common symptoms include radiating facial pain, jaw popping and clicking, neck and shoulder muscle stiffness, and migraines. Taking the necessary steps to change your habits could help you manage your TMJ pain.
Habits That Cause TMJ Problems
Several habits can cause or exacerbate your jaw pain. Nail biting and chewing on non-food items such as the backs of pens are some of the most common causes of flare-ups. Chewing on an unyielding object fatigues your joint and surrounding muscles.
Slouching or other poor posture while working will also cause TMJ problems later. When you practice poor posture, your spine begins to remember that position and becomes misaligned. Alignment problems in your spine will eventually cause your jaw to become misaligned as well.
Jaw clenching and bruxism (tooth grinding) are also harmful unconscious habits. These activities stress and fatigue your jaw joint and create muscle tension. Your teeth can also suffer physical damage from bruxism, which can cause you to develop an uneven bite plane and a bad bite.
Why We Form Habits
Acting out a habit start with what psychologists call a “habit loop”. Whenever you start an activity, your brain begins the loop. First, your brain picks up on a cue, or trigger. Next, the trigger sparks the unconscious execution of a familiar routine (the habit). Finally, a reward comes that your brain finds pleasing, which encourages it to remember the habit. For example, you might start slouching occasionally while you work as a way to alleviate stress. Your brain will associate slouching with the positive feeling of stress relief, and slouching will become an unconscious habit, which occurs every time you sit down to work.
Breaking the Habit
Breaking bad habits that cause TMJ flare-ups requires conscious effort to create a new habit loop. First, you need to disrupt the habit cues that begin the bad habit. You can do this by changing the way you do your activity. If you slouch when you work, for example, try working in a new position or location, or put an ergonomic pillow behind your back to encourage good posture.
Repetition is the key to successfully changing your habit once you disrupt the cue. You need to practice the same habits that effectively disrupt your bad habits in order to create new ones. Be patient with yourself. The formation of new habits can take 30 or more days before the new routine becomes unconscious.
Reclaim Your Jaw Health
In addition to making habit changes, you can manage your TMJ pain with non-surgical treatment options. A neuromuscular orthotic device called a bite splint can help reposition your jaw and prevent unconscious bruxism and clenching. You can wear bite splints while you work, or at night when you go to sleep.
Many cases of TMJ are caused by a bad bite from poor tooth alignment. If this is the cause of your pain, Dr. Kevin Berry can change your bite using coronoplasy to gently reshape the enamel of problem teeth. More severe cases may require full mouth reconstruction to not only alleviate your symptoms, but provide you with a more attractive smile.
You deserve to live a pain-free life, and non-surgical TMJ treatment can make that possible. For more information about managing your TMJ pain, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.