TMJ can affect people of all ages, and has a wide variety of possible causes and contributing factors. However, recent studies have shown that teens are increasing their risk of TMJ with certain habits and choices.

Once damage to the temporomandibular joint has been done, it can’t be undone. An elevated risk of TMJ during teenage years can lead to worse and worse symptoms, discomfort, and pain over the course of a lifetime. And while many teenage habits might feel harmless, researchers have found that some are anything but.

Teenage girl blowing a bubble with chewing gum.

Study Focuses on Gum Chewing, Facial Piercings

A new study from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg sought to identify whether or not there was a link between TMJ and two different common teen actions: Chewing gum, and having oral piercings.

Unsurprisingly, the constant stress of frequent gum chewing was easily tied to difficulty opening the mouth widely, and tenderness of the muscles and joints responsible for the chewing action. This is similar to the common issue of experiencing jaw pain as a result of other heavy-duty chewing, such as that we experience on food-centric holidays like Thanksgiving.

In addition to soreness and muscle stress, frequent gum chewing also proved to be related to headaches, which are also a common symptom of TMJ.

Researchers also looked at oral piercings, such as tongue or lip piercings. It is a common nervous habit to manipulate oral piercings with the tongue, lips, or teeth, particularly when bored or feeling restless, which are both extremely common states for teens in school. The study was able to successfully link the presence of oral piercings with similar symptoms to those of frequent gum chewing: Headaches, and soreness of the chewing muscles and joints.

Fewer students chewed their nails, but this was also associated with TMJ symptoms, such as headaches and tooth wear.

Of the students of the school involved in the study, nearly one quarter report chewing gum daily, and most of those students chew gum for several hours each day. Another 14% had oral piercings. Both gum chewing and oral piercings were more common for girls than for boys. In fact, some research estimates that teenage girls are over 200% more likely to chew gum than the average American.

Catch Bad Habits Early to Reduce Risk

Jaw soreness is common, and it doesn’t always have to lead to TMJ. By reducing or eliminating the habits you have that cause stress to your temporomandibular joint, you can reduce the risk of your standard jaw pain transforming over time into TMJ.

For teens especially, this means cutting down on gum chewing, and either removing oral piercings or making a concentrated effort to resist fidgeting with them. But there are other bad habits that increase your risk of TMJ that everyone should work on avoiding: Chewing on pens and pencils, using teeth as tools, smoking, and even just everyday stress can all contribute to jaw pain, and eventually, TMJ.

If you think you may have TMJ, or want to ensure you are doing everything you can to reduce your risk, TMJ dentist Dr. Adam Hahn can help. Call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry online to schedule an appointment.