Selecting the Right Pillow for Your TMD

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Most of us have at least 2 or 3 pillows on our bed. Stuffed with feathers, down, or polyester, these pillows can be a source of great relief or a source of night-long discomfort. This is a complicated issue to address broadly, as personal preference, sleeping position habits, and home environment all factor into the ideal pillow selection. Let me provide a few tips in the selection of a pillow.

First of all, if you have a pillow that you love and sleep well with, change nothing! If, however, you find yourself constantly adjusting your pillow, or turning from side to side in search of a position that doesn’t hurt your neck or jaw, you may want to consider looking for a new pillow.

Perhaps you use a pillow with added cervical support, in which case it is very important to sleep on your back. If your pillow has a cervical bulge, and you end up sleeping on your side or front, the bulge can push on the lower jaw, placing a load on your joint or interfering with its alignment. You may find that placing pillows at your sides will help discourage turning to your side or stomach in your sleep.

Ideal sleep position for your jaw is typically on your back. However, some of us are incapable of sleeping on our backs. If you are a side or front sleeper, try and create a pillow scenario where most of the support is felt on the fixed part of your skull (the head, ear, or cheek bone region), and not on your movable lower jaw. You may need some light support under your jaw to keep gravity from pulling down and displacing it. There is a delicate balance which can be obtained with attention to sleep ergonomics. Sometimes some support under the shoulder or chest can alleviate pressure created on the jaw from sleeping on one’s stomach.

Sometimes a comfortable pillow cannot be found for a straight horizontal sleep position, even when on our back. Some of us will do better with a significant or slight inclination in our reclining position. You may try a recliner or a bed with an adjustable angle.

Here’s the practical side of all this. Synthetic material pillows tend to be more durable and wash better, as well as being more hypoallergenic in material. But remember that you don’t always have to replace a pillow because it is uncomfortable. Sometimes you can modify the pillow you already have. For instance, if the pillow is too firm, you can open a seam and remove some of the filler. If the pillow is too soft, you can condense the filling and pin together one end. Once you have found the ideal firmness in your pillow, sew up the modified edge and you are there!

I hope these tips are helpful in your search for a comfortable night’s rest. Sleep is pivotal to the health of your body¬†systems and whatever you can do to increase the quality of your sleep, will only help your jaw joints.

Nathan J. Pettit, DMD, MSD
Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics
TMDigest August 2017 Page

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