Is The Holiday Season Adding To TMJ Issues?

It’s common knowledge that people often feel increased fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and pressure over the holiday season. These stress-related negative emotions could lead to physical ailments such as tension headaches, muscle soreness and jaw pain which often come from underlying TMJ issues.

TMJ simply stands for the Temporomandibular Joint. This is the joint used to open and close our mouths when talking, yawning, or chewing. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD or TMJD) is a term used to describe a variety of disorders that affect the TMJ muscles and surrounding structures.

“With the added tasks people need to get done over the holiday season, bruxism (grinding of the teeth) or clenching the teeth can start or perhaps increase,” said Dr. Erik F. Reitter, DDS. “This can lead to temporary or permanent health issues.” Dr. Reitter is a Board Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at Carolinas Center for TMJ Therapy and specializes in Temporal Mandibular Dysfunctions in Charlotte, NC. He is also a member of the American Dental Association (ADA) and the North Carolina Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (NC-OMS).

Symptoms of TMD include: noises such as clicking, popping or grinding; muscle pain in the face and neck; and pain around and into the ear. Other indications of TMD are: the inability to open your mouth as wide as you once could; the feeling of your jaw catching or locking; headaches; and changes in your bite.

“People need to realize that headaches, earaches, and jaw and muscle pain, especially when left untreated, can become debilitating,” said Dr. Reitter. “Patients can lose the ability to open and close their mouths making eating and talking painful”. There is also the added damage to teeth which often requires dental care. So it’s best to be proactive if you feel any symptoms such as: noises, jaw pain, limited opening, headaches, and so on. Early intervention is key to treating TMJ, so don’t wait too long to see a specialist.

Our offices are open over the holiday season to help with treatment options such as: using splints; changes in oral and postural habits; education; and medications. There are also specific exercises and/or physical therapy that can be prescribed for patients. Surgery is only used as a last resort in severe cases.

If you can’t make it into our offices, try the following non-surgical techniques:
  • Alternate between moist heat (washcloth) and ice for sore jaw muscles
  • Sparingly use anti-inflammatories such as Naproxen or Ibuprofen (use as directed on label)
  • Avoid eating hard or sticky ‘holiday’ foods such as candies or nuts; choose a soft diet
  • Be sure to drink at least 8 8oz glasses of water per day
  • Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Schedule a holiday massage! Have the therapist work the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and face
  • Avoid over-the-counter mouth guards or night guards as these can often makes symptoms worse
  • Take the time each day to relax the face and jaw muscles
  • Exercise daily! Be it yoga, cardio or weight lifting, exercise can reduce stress.
  • Be cognizant of posture especially at the computer
  • Avoid chewing gum, biting fingernails or chewing on cheeks or lips which can create repetitive strain injuries
  • Try calming breathing techniques such as deep 10 count inhales through the nose and 10 count exhales out the nose.

More information can also be found at our TMJ dentistry page.