A New Zealand woman recently found out that she’s going to have to have serious jaw surgery to correct her TMJ. The cause of her jaw dysfunction? Too much chewing gum.
When a Good Habit Goes Wrong
38-year-old mother of four Claire Embleton believed that her chewing gum habit was healthy. She took to heart the common advice that chewing gum after meals can help clean your mouth. It’s true that gum can clean your mouth. It can remove food particles and oral bacteria, and it stimulates saliva production, which further suppresses the growth of oral bacteria and keeps acid levels in your mouth from reaching tooth-damaging heights. And she always made sure to chew sugar free gum.
But there’s definitely a point where it becomes too much of a good thing, and Ms. Embleton reached that point. She was chewing gum for about five hours a day on weekdays and perhaps seven hours a day on weekends.
As a result, she began to experience popping and clicking in her jaw. It didn’t hurt, so she ignored it.
Then one day her jaw froze open. She couldn’t move it at all, and now she experienced excruciating jaw pain. Even then she didn’t seek professional help, hoping that with rest and painkillers her condition would improve.
But it didn’t. She then underwent physical therapy and a less invasive procedure known as an arthroscopy. But this didn’t improve her condition and now she needs to have jaw replacement, which is a high-risk procedure with common complications.
How to Avoid Jaw Surgery for TMJ
When TMJ develops to a certain point, jaw joint replacement surgery is really the only option. But in earlier stages, it can be treated successfully with noninvasive options. Here’s how you can minimize your risk for serious TMJ that requires surgical treatment.
Avoid overtaxing your jaw: Chew gum only occasionally, for fifteen minutes or less after meals. Don’t eat too many chewy or crunchy foods. Don’t use your teeth as pliers, nutcrackers, or icebreakers.
Respond to symptoms: If you start to notice jaw symptoms, you need to talk to a dentist or doctor as soon as possible. If you try home care, don’t try it for more than a week if symptoms don’t go away, and stop home care if it’s making symptoms worse. You should also stop chewing gum at this point and consider sticking to softer foods for a while.
Try several treatments: If your jaw does not initially respond to one type of TMJ treatment, seek out other options. TMJ is a complex condition and in some cases may not respond to physical therapy or medication, but will respond to neuromuscular dentistry. Make sure you try several different options early on.