Many people assume that temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain is caused by teeth grinding alone. Although this is one factor, there are many other seemingly unrelated things that can irritate and stress your jaw, leading to TMJ pain.
Nervous habits are seen in many of our patients, partly because they are related to stress and anxiety but also because some of these habits harm your jaw directly. For this reason, we help patients recognize habits that may be contributing to TMJ pain and provide them with ways they can learn to quit these habits in healthy ways.
Lip Chewing, Picking, and Similar Habits
Many nervous habits are often done subconsciously and are a response to stress or anxiety. They can be particularly hard to break, and can persist for many years. Because they utilize the jaw and facial muscles, the repeated movement from these habits can definitely damage your TMJs and make jaw pain worse. Some of these habits include:
- Chewing or biting on the lips
- Lip licking
- Lip picking
- Chewing on pens and other objects
- Biting your nails
If you have struggled with one of these habits, it’s important to know that you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed. But each one of these habits can irritate the jaw muscles, so it’s in your best interest to find ways to stop. If you can find better ways to deal with emotional stress, your jaw and your whole body will be healthier.
Kick the Habits
There are safe and effective ways to quit bad habits like the ones mentioned above. It may take patience and persistence, but we’ve seen the positive results in many patients who stick with it. Try these suggestions:
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Learning to deal with stress is one of the best ways to cut back on nervous habits. Taking deep, controlled breaths is effective and healthy. You can do this any time of day, focusing on the inhale and exhale. Consider adding other stress relief tools, such as guided imagery CDs or aromatherapy.
- Find other things to do with your hands. If your issue involves picking or nail biting, try squeezing a stress ball, wearing gloves, or using the bad-tasting nail polishes designed for this purpose.
- Make a decision to stop the habit, but don’t give up if you have setbacks. Quitting a nervous habit can be difficult, so many people find that going “cold turkey” isn’t always successful. Make a commitment to yourself to stop. But, if you catch yourself doing it again, try not to get frustrated. Just keep trying to quit.
- Recognize that mental health issues such as obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety require the help of your doctor. Seek medical treatment for these issues if needed, and don’t feel you have to overcome them on your own.
At MedCenter TMJ, we believe that treating jaw pain requires a full body and mind approach. We help our patients find healthy ways to deal with stress and bad habits that may be contributing to their TMJ problems. This helps them achieve relief from jaw pain as well as a healthier, happier lifestyle.
If you’d like to learn more about how MedCenter TMJ can help you, please contact our Houston office today!