We emphasize again and again; you are what you eat. Quite literally, the food you consume becomes incorporated into the make-up of your body cells. Our cells will respond based on the quality of food we eat, and the nutrients we consume.
A dilemma many of our patients face is the inability to eat wholesome and nutritious foods regularly. Sometimes this difficulty is due to inability of the jaw or joints to handle the load of the food. When your TMJ flares up, it becomes difficult to open wide, to chew food completely, or even to swallow.
I want to mention a few guidelines to help ease the joint burden of eating nutritious food. These techniques were discussed by a dietitian at our recent scientific meeting of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain. Some of these guidelines will be familiar to you. Research in this field continues to support the same techniques we’ve been teaching for years.
The first guideline for food preparation is to cut or chop all foods you eat. When food is chopped or cut into small pieces, the need for mechanical loading is decreased. Remove components of food that are particularly tough. For instance, vegetables and fruits with skins should be peeled. These vegetables can be lightly cooked and then chopped for an even gentler texture. In addition, foods can be moistened to a comfortable yet appetizing consistency with gravies, sauces, or broth. Keep in mind that soft white breads are deceptive. You would be better off choosing thin, crisp crackers or bread which will break easily in your mouth and require less chewing to prepare for swallowing.
Chew slowly and carefully, particularly when trying a new or unfamiliar food. Vertical chewing strokes are best, encouraging more stability of the joints. Watching yourself eat in a hand mirror can be very effective in training your muscles how to move your lower jaw. If you are eating out, select restaurants in advance to ensure you have healthy foods available which will not over-work your jaw. Nutritious smoothies are an excellent way to increase fruit and vegetable intake.
The healthier food choices you make now, the better your body will feel and the more adaptive your body will be. Health is potentially your greatest asset.
Nathan J. Pettit, DMD, MSD
Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics