Paying attention to the warning signs of pain flare-ups can help you manage your temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). TMJ is a painful condition usually caused by a misalignment of the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint). Symptoms include jaw pain, jaw popping and clicking, tingling in the extremities, or frequent tension headaches. You might consider keeping a pain journal detailing your recent activities, season, foods you’ve eaten, and other information to help you find a pattern to your pain. Learning to recognize what specific happenings increase your pain can help you prevent flare-ups. Although every case is different, there are some factors that commonly influence TMJ pain.

Monitor Your Stress

Stress can cause TMJ flare-ups for multiple reasons. The first is that stress causes muscle tension throughout your body, including your jaw and shoulders. Muscle tension makes your jaw work harder, fatiguing the joint and causing you pain. Stress also increases your likelihood of unconscious tooth grinding and jaw clenching. Clenching and grinding also fatigue your joint, and can cause a bad bite to develop. If you notice regular flare-ups coinciding with stress, you might benefit from wearing an oral orthotic device (bite splint) during periods of high stress in order to prevent clenching and grinding.

Watch Your Work Habits

Discovering your work quirks can also help you prevent TMJ pain. A poor posture at work can cause misalignments in your spine that push or pull your jaw out of place as well. Some people also pick up bad “thinking habits” such as nail biting or unconsciously sticking your tongue out while you work. These habits seem benign, but they can fatigue your jaw and increase your pain.

Food Choices

Certain food choices put unnecessary strain on your jaw, and will exacerbate any developing TMJ problems. You might consider using a knife and fork on foods that require you to open your mouth wide. Cutting back on the crunchy and chewy foods that you consume will also prevent fatigue. Some people incorporate juicing into their diet when they notice signs of an impending flare-up.

Seasonal Outdoor Work

Seasonal activities like gardening and shoveling snow might also lead to TMJ flare-ups. These activities cause muscle tension in your neck and shoulders that pull your jaw out of alignment. Many people unconsciously clench their jaw during exertion, fatiguing the joint.

Managing Your Individual Pain

Non-surgical TMJ treatment options can also help you manage your symptoms. If you experience frequent flare-ups or constant jaw pain, you might benefit from professional TMJ treatment. At the TMJ and OSA Center, Dr. Don Lowrance will work with you to find the source of your pain. Using data collected by a K7 computer system, he will determine the ideal position for your jaw and create a custom oral orthotic (also called a bite splint) to stabilize your bite. Doing so will take pressure off of your injured jaw joint. In many cases, you will only need the bite splint to manage your symptoms. Some cases require more advanced care, such as dental work, to correct the cause of your misalignment.

To learn more about managing your TMJ symptoms, please contact Dr. Lowrance’s office at (361) 851-8274 for a consultation.