If you have temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, you may already know your triggers or what can make your condition worse, such as teeth grinding or chewing on ice. You may not know that the common habit of chewing gum can contribute to your jaw pain and dysfunction, however. While chewing gum can seem fairly innocuous, it can aggravate your existing jaw problems.
What Is TMD?
TMD is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joints (TMJs). The TMJs are two small bones located in the middle of each side of your skull. They connect the top part of your skull with your lower jaw. This allows for movement of your head, eyes, ears, tongue, lips and jaws. When these joints become inflamed or damaged, they can cause pain and discomfort. There are many causes of TMD, including:
Genetics. If your parents have TMD, there is a chance that you can develop the condition, too.
Trauma. Injury to your jaw joints from a blow or fall could leave you at risk of developing TMD.
Infection. An infection of the mouth or teeth could also lead to inflammation of the TMJ.
Stress. Anxiety, stress, tension and anger can all affect your TMD because when you feel these emotions, you often clench your jaw or grind your teeth. It’s important to learn how to manage stress so that it doesn’t negatively impact your health.
Muscle tension. Your muscles can play a role in causing TMD by pulling on your jaw joints. For example, if you have tight neck muscles, this can pull on the TMJ and cause pain.
Sleep apnea. A lack of oxygen while sleeping can cause damage to the TMJs because a natural instinct when you can’t breathe is to clench your jaw to clear your airway.
Oral habits. Some oral habits like biting your nails, clenching your jaw and sucking your thumb can put pressure on your jaw joints and cause them to hurt.
Arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can cause swelling around the TMJs, which makes it difficult to move your jaw.
Aging. As we age, our bodies change and our TMJs will likely need more time to heal after injury or surgery.
Bite malocclusion. Malocclusions occur when your bite isn’t properly aligned. This can result in uneven wear and tear on your teeth and jaw.
Dental work. Many dental procedures can cause irritation or trauma to the TMJs. These include tooth extraction, root canal therapy, crowns, bridges, implants, dentures, orthodontic appliances and more.
The Signs of TMD
There are a few notable signs of TMD, but many people don’t realize they have the condition until they are in severe pain, or they experience jaw dysfunction.
The signs of TMD include:
- Pain or tenderness in the area between your ear and cheekbone
- Difficulty opening your mouth wide
- Clicking sounds when moving your jaw
- Jaw stiffness
- Neck pain or facial pain
- Tooth sensitivity
- Swelling or bruising near the TMJs.
These symptoms can vary depending on the severity of your condition. However, most people do not notice any of these early warning signs until their jaw becomes painful.
How Can Chewing Gum Make My TMD Worse?
If you chew gum frequently, you may think it won’t make a difference. But, there are actually several reasons chewing gum can worsen your temporomandibular disorder. First, it can cause your jaw to tighten up by causing the muscles that surround the jaw to become overworked. Second, the act of chewing puts a ton of pressure on your jaw joints.
Your jaw muscles may become fatigued and stiff, and the constant grinding and clenching of your teeth can cause your jaw to ache and even swell. Some individuals living with TMD who chew gum frequently experience a loss of use of their jaw, which causes them to lose their ability to open their mouths fully.
An Alternative to Chewing Gum
If you have TMD and you like to chew gum, this blog may be a little depressing. Don’t despair, however. There are some TMJ-safe alternatives to freshen your breath without damaging your oral health, including:
Breath strips. Breath strips are strips of material placed under your tongue that absorb bad odors. They come in different flavors to help mask unpleasant smells.
Mouthwash. Use a mouthwash that contains alcohol or other ingredients that kill bacteria and reduce odor. Alcohol-free mouthwashes are also available.
Saltwater rinses. Saltwater rinses contain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water. The baking soda helps neutralize bad odors while the water flushes out debris from your mouth. If you prefer, you can mix saltwater rinse with hydrogen peroxide for an extra cleaning effect.
Sugar-free breath mints. You can buy sugar-free breath mints made with Xylitol to freshen your breath.
If you must chew gum, do so in moderation. Try to limit yourself to two pieces a day. And if you’re really concerned about your TMD, talk to your dentist about how best to treat your condition.