It may be surprising to learn that people can develop or aggravate TMJ by chewing gum.
This can tempt chewing gum lovers to ditch their chewing habits. Others may find it difficult to part from the habit, especially considering the oral health benefits chewing gum offer.
But once the facts are laid out, it may be easier to see the link between chewing gum and TMJ and why it is important to take steps to reduce the risks.
Perhaps the biggest risk is having to undergo invasive jaw surgery to correct this facial joint disorder.
Can someone really get TMJ from chewing gum?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint disorder, also called TMD.
It relates to symptoms affecting the two matching temporomandibular hinge joints located on each side of the head.
There is also the chewing muscles and joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull and help the mouth to smoothly open and close.
Other surrounding structures are the teeth, cartilage disk between the bones of the joints, neck, jaw, and facial muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
Some doctors believe anything that puts physical stress or pressure on the joints and muscles, including chewing gum, may cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction and trigger TMJ symptoms.
In trying to understand the link between TMJ and chewing gum, it is important to also note that researchers believe gum-chewing can be good for oral health when done in moderation.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the use of sugar-free gum has proven oral health benefits.
Among them are stimulating saliva, clearing away sugars and trapped food particles in the mouth, promoting pH balance, preventing cavities, and enhancing tooth remineralization.
However, excessive chewing may be damaging to the teeth and facial structures.
For example, chewing gum a few hours a day every day can overtax the jaw and muscles.
This can lead to the displacement of the jaw joints and some mild to disabling symptoms.
TMJ causes and risk factors
Temporomandibular joint disorders or dysfunctions can happen and result in painful symptoms if the cushiony disc erodes or shift out of its proper alignment.
When in its normal position, the disc acts as a shock absorber and supports the smooth sliding motion of the jaw when opening and closing the mouth.
Other possible causes are:
- Injury or trauma to the jaw
- A bad bite (malocclusion)
- Damage to the cartilage, e.g., from inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
- Changes in teeth structure from worn teeth or teeth replacement
However, doctors are usually unable to determine the exact cause in many cases.
In spite of this, it is believed that gum chewing may more likely trigger or worsen pain and other TMJ symptoms due to over-exercising the jaw joint which then becomes tired and stressed.
This claim is supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) which cautioned that people should avoid unsafe practices such as gum chewing to help ease TMJ symptoms.
The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommended that people who suffer from the disorder should avoid chewing gum, biting their fingernails, chewing on hard objects, and other repetitive bad habits that may stress the facial joints.
These recommendations by the NIDCR and the ADA suggest that even if there is no direct scientific evidence that someone could get TMJ from chewing gum, doing so can exacerbate the symptoms.
A person may have a greater risk of developing a TMJ disorder if they:
- Suffered a jaw injury
- Have facial joint arthritis (especially rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis)
- Have a habit of grinding or clenching their teeth (chronic)
- Chew hard candy or gum for a long time
- Habitually bite the lip, fingernails, or a pencil
- Suffered a misalignment of the upper cervical spine
- Experience a medical condition that may affect the temporomandibular joint
Scientists are also trying to find out how physical, psychological, and behavioral, factors may combine to cause TMD.
TMJ disorders affect more than 10 million Americans and appear to be more common in women than men.
This is according to the NIH. Many people also complain of the symptoms between ages 20 and 50.
Someone who has TMJ from chewing gum may experience one or more of the following symptoms which can vary in severity from patient to patient:
- Jaw pain
- Chronic headaches
- Jaw muscle pain, spasms, or stiffness
- Jaw popping and clicking when opening or closing the mouth
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Neck, back, or shoulder pain
- Misaligned jaws or facial deformity
- Locking of the jaw or reduced jaw movement
Some people are unable to focus or function at school or work or perform everyday tasks due to severe jaw pain.
TMJ treatments options
Untreated or severe TMJ can interfere with the patient's quality of life.
As such, patients are usually encouraged to speak with their doctor as early as possible to prevent complications.
According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), treatment for TMJ include non-surgical and surgical options.
The patient's doctor will decide on the appropriate choice of care based on the type and severity of the disorder.
Non-surgical care recommended to ease the pain, improve function, and increase mobility are:
- Over-the-counter medication
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- Muscle relaxants or analgesics
- Anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants
- Heat or cold pack therapy
- Steroid or Botox injections
- Jaw exercises or physical therapy to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles
- A mouthguard or bite guard (worn during sleep to reduce teeth grinding or clenching)
- Meditation, biofeedback, or other forms of relaxation techniques to ease jaw tension
In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery which could include:
- TMJ arthroscopy
- Mandibular condylotomy
- Manipulation under anesthesia (MUA)
- Disc repair or removal, with or without replacement
- Partial or total joint reconstruction
- Surgically replacing the jaw joints with artificial implants
In some cases, the patient's dentist may refer them to an orthodontist for orthodontic treatment.
For example, where the jaws are misaligned or an overbite, underbite, or overcrowded teeth are causing jaw pain.
Braces are commonly used to correct bite problems and ease certain TMJ symptoms.
In severe cases of jaw misalignment, an orthodontist may recommend orthognathic surgery (jaw surgery) to correct TMJ disorders and improve facial asymmetry.
Reducing the risk of TMJ
TMJ can be largely relieved by reducing physical stress on the jaw and managing anxiety or stress to avoid teeth clenching or grinding.
In this YouTube Video, therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck demonstrate how massaging the temples, jaw, and cheeks regularly may help to alleviate the symptoms.
The following are other helpful tips:
- Do not grind or clench the teeth
- Keep gum-chewing at minimum or avoid chewing gum altogether
- Practice keeping the face and jaw joint relaxed with lips together and teeth apart
- Take small bites and chew on both sides of the mouth
- Avoid resting the chin on the hand
- Avoid hard and chewy foods
- Use the hand to support the lower jaw with when yawning
- Never bite hard objects, e.g., pencils, pens, or fingernails
- Avoid cradling the phone between the neck and shoulder
- Avoiding extreme jaw movements such as wide yawning or loud signing
- Wear mouth guards and helmets for sports that require protecting the head and mouth
Although there is no clear-cut cause of TMJ, various factors can increase the risk of this jaw joint disorder.
TMJ is also difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other conditions.
Nevertheless, regularly chewing gum over-exercises the joint and may make it more likely to develop the disorder.
Many people see improvement in their symptoms with medical treatment, routine self-care, and avoiding chewing gum.