Sugar can be detrimental to your health in many ways. Your dentist has probably told you to curb sweets due to tooth decay. Your doctor may tell you to minimize sugar to reduce your risk of diabetes, obesity, and other health problems. But did you know that sugar can also be bad for your temporomandibular joint (TMJ)?
In fact, if you have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD), sugar could be making your symptoms worse. Have you ever noticed your jaw pain getting worse after eating candy or sweets? It’s not just your imagination – and there are a number of reasons why this can occur:
Sugar causes inflammation, which can aggravate an already-inflamed TMJ. Inflammation is a major cause of TMJ pain and soreness. So, it makes sense that eating sugar can set off this inflammatory response in the body, making your jaw hurt.
Sugar causes a blood sugar spike – and subsequent crash – which can lead to headaches. Many TMD patients find that headaches are related to their TMD in some way. Perhaps TMJ pain causes headaches, or they already suffer from migraines or tension headaches due to stress, and stress is a major contributor to TMD. Either way, a sugar crash can cause a headache, leading to increased pain and TMD symptoms.
Super sweet and/or tart desserts can send your salivary glands into overdrive. Let’s face it: our bodies weren’t designed to deal with the super sweet foods on candy shelves today. Because of this, our salivary glands can become overstimulated when they encounter a sugary food. Some people find their glands to be particularly sensitive. This can cause a painful reaction in the glands of the mouth, which feels a lot like jaw pain. And, due to the glands’ proximity to the jaw, this pain and reaction may trigger TMJ pain in susceptible people.
Many sugary sweets are chewy, hard, or sticky, which spells trouble for anyone with TMD. Hard candies, chewy taffy, sticky caramel… your mind may say, “yum,” but your jaw says, “no!” If you have TMD, your occasional dessert should (ideally) be something soft like baked goods – particularly ones that are sweetened with fruit and contain little to no added sugar.
Stress causes many people to crave sugar – and sugar and TMD are closely related. Stress causes headaches and teeth grinding, which usually leads to a flare of TMD symptoms and jaw pain. And, when we’re stressed, we tend to crave comfort foods such as sweets, which may only make the pain worse. Everyone has stress from time to time, so rather than trying to avoid it all, learn how to deal with it in healthy ways. Deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and eating healthy foods can help you alleviate stress – and avoid the vending machine – so you can avoid TMJ pain.
With Easter coming up, remember that those chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies are probably not worth the pain! Stick to a healthy lifestyle and be sure to call MedCenter TMJ if your TMJ symptoms aren’t well controlled. We want to help you get back to feeling your best.