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Avoid a jaw problem by chewing properly and practicing good posture

There are over 200 bones in the human body, and the head and face account for 22 of these. Of the face and head bones, the lower jawbone—or mandible—is the only one that can move. The mandible is connected to the temporal bone of the skull at two points just in front of each ear through an important joint called the temporomandibular joint. This joint gets lots of attention not only because it allows us to move our jaw in order to talk and chew food, but also because it’s a common location for pain.

A temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is essentially any condition in which the temporomandibular joint is not functioning properly. These types of issues are quite common, as they affect millions of Americans every year and can strike at any age. Symptoms vary from patient to patient, but in most cases they lead to pain and discomfort in the jaw and surrounding facial muscles which can make it difficult to perform any actions that require opening or closing the mouth.

It’s not entirely clear what causes TMDs, but several factors may be responsible, including injury to the jaw, repeated clenching or grinding of the teeth, high stress levels, muscle spasms, and arthritis. This uncertainty, combined with the fact that we need to use our jaws constantly, might lead you to believe that there’s not much that can be done to avoid a TMD. Fortunately this is not the case, as there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk for TMDs. We recommend the following strategies:

  • Be more careful with what and how you chew
    • Avoid chewing gum
    • Chew with both sides of your mouth
    • Avoid eating too many hard or crunchy foods
    • Take smaller bites of food
    • Don’t bite on hard objects like pens or pencils
    • Avoid biting your nails
  • Practice good posture
    • Keep your head balanced and not hunched forward, your shoulders straight, and torso in alignment with your head and shoulders (with good posture, a straight line can be drawn from your ears to your shoulders)
    • Avoid cradling your phone between your neck and shoulders
    • Try not to regularly carry a heavy purse or backpack on one shoulder
    • Consider using ergonomically-designed products for your office setup
  • If you grind or clench your teeth, try to reduce or stop this habit
  • Try to keep your tongue at the roof of your mouth and avoid letting your teeth touch; your teeth should be kept at least a few millimeters apart unless you’re chewing, and even then they should not be making much contact with one another
  • Sleep on your back or side and avoid sleeping on your stomach, which can strain your jaw; make sure your pillow provides enough support for your head and neck
  • If your stress levels are high, explore options to reduce your stress, including meditation, yoga, mindfulness practices, and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Don’t rest your chin in your hands
  • Breathe through your nose and keep your lips together
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