If you suffer from TMJ, you might have seen the advertisements or articles telling you that you can learn how to avoid jaw pain through techniques like meditation and mindfulness. However, this is not usually a good solution to TMJ and related problems, including chronic pain. Although your jaw pain may relate to your jaw being held in the wrong position, you can’t just learn to hold your jaw properly to avoid jaw pain.
It’s Not All about Stress
One of the things that these self-help TMJ articles will promote is the role that stress plays in TMJ. It’s certainly true that stress does play a role in TMJ. If you are anxious and clenching your jaw unconsciously, that will definitely contribute to your jaw pain, headaches, and other TMJ symptoms. Often meditation and mindfulness techniques can help if this is the primary source of your TMJ.
But there are many other factors in play that also contribute to the development and continuation of TMJ.
You Use Your Jaw More Than You Think
Part of the reason why you might think you can easily control your jaw movements is that you’re only aware of using your jaw sometimes when you’re doing things like chewing and talking.
But the truth is that your jaw is constantly active. Every time you unconsciously swallow to clear saliva from your mouth, your jaw is involved. When you lift heavy weights, run, or otherwise exert yourself, your jaw is involved. Just holding your head upright requires help from your jaw muscles. And every time you call on your jaw, the imbalance in your jaw joint can lead to irritation and pain, potentially even jaw joint damage.
The Jaw Is a Self-Regulating System
The other problem with trying to control your jaw is that it has its own control mechanisms. The jaw learns on its own how to chew and how to clench, based on the feedback of nerves in your teeth and in your jaw, the action of the muscles themselves and the relative position of the joint. All these tiny inputs are constantly refining the motion of the jaw, and many of them are outside the realm of consciousness. If you focus on it carefully, you might be able to hold your jaw in place for a while, but over time the self-regulation will put it back where it was before.
You Need to Change the Jaw System
In order to overcome the self-regulating system, you need to manipulate it so that it works in your favor. This means changing the inputs. This is how a bite splint works. It puts your jaw in the proper position and holds it there not just physically, but unconsciously. By retraining the inputs from your muscles, teeth, and joints, it teaches your jaw to be in the right position on its own.
You might have to wear a bite splint for 24 hours a day at first to fully retrain the jaw, but after a while, you will only have to wear it at night to prevent regression. And, of course, if you want to make the effect permanent, without a bite splint, you can get a full mouth reconstruction that builds your teeth up so that they hold your jaw in the right place.