Certain unconscious habits can cause painful flare-ups if you suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Nail biting, slouching while working, chewing on non-food items, and tooth grinding all develop as unconscious habits alongside your everyday activities. Breaking habits of this sort requires your dedication if you want to break the cycle of pain and manage your TMJ symptoms.

woman putting a piece of gum in her mouthHow Do Habits Work?

Habits form in what is called a “habit loop”. To begin the loop, you begin a common activity such as work, and your brain picks up on a cue to start an unconscious habit. Cues can be as small as sitting down in your favorite chair. Next, the action of sitting in the chair causes your brain to activate the unconscious habit of chewing on the pen. The final stage of the habit loop is the reward. Your brain finds something pleasant about chewing on that pen, such as mild stress relief or a concentration boost, which encourages your brain to remember and repeat the habit.

In order to break the habit, you need to make conscious effort to do so. Disrupting the cue that starts your habit will help you break free and alter your behavior.

Identify the Habit and Trigger

In order to break a habit, you must first identify the pain-causing habit that you want to change. Write down what activities or settings seem to trigger your habit. Sometimes writing it all out can help you make the changes you need.

Make a Plan for Change

Next, you need to determine what you can change in your routine to disrupt your habit cue. For example, if you chew on your nails when you work, sit down with a stress ball in hand. Working with the stress ball will disrupt your previous hands-free trigger and encourage you to change the habit. Whenever you catch yourself doing the undesirable activity, make yourself switch to a more desirable one that disrupts the previous one. You might need to consciously change your habits more than 30 days in a row before your brain starts performing the new habit unconsciously.

Treat Your TMJ at the Source

Changing your habits is only part of the process of managing your TMJ pain. If you suffer from jaw pain, recurring headaches, popping and clicking of the jaw, or tinnitus (phantom ringing in your ears), you might benefit from non-surgical TMJ treatment. During your first appointment, we will examine your jaw with a K7 computer system to determine the optimum position of your misaligned jaw. A neuromuscular orthotic device (also called a bite splint) will then stabilize your bite and discourage any jaw clenching or bruxism (tooth grinding).

For more information about how non-surgical TMJ treatment can help you manage your jaw pain, please call (509) 532-1111 for an appointment with a Spokane TMJ dentist at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics.