Although people of any age can suffer from TMJ, studies have shown that risk increases with age. This should come as no surprise, since we already know that our bone and joint health deteriorates as we age. Because of this, it’s important that even people who have shown no signs of developing TMJ practice certain preventive measures to protect their jaw health and ensure they don’t develop TMJ as they grow older.
Aging Threatens Bones and Joints
As we age, our bones, joints, and muscles begin to degenerate. We lose bone density and our bones can become deficient in important minerals, making them fragile. The cartilage and fluid that helps joints function smoothly can decrease and wear down, making joints less flexible.
All of these things can threaten the fragile temporomandibular joint. This joint in particular is complex, requiring multiple systems to work together to allow your jaw to move in all the different directions needed to speak, eat, and go about your daily life. However, someone suffering from TMJ will find their jaw unable to find a position of rest. Instead, the muscles of the jaw will be continually tense, causing teeth to grind or clench, and doing yet further damage to the joint.
Besides the changes to bone and joint health that accompany aging, the years can negatively affect your jaw health in many other ways. For example, dental procedures or even just normal wear to teeth can change your bite and affect your joints. Injuries or trauma can damage your jaw, and other medical conditions can cause damage to the jaw or joints.
Protecting Your Jaw Health
Luckily, there are things you can do to protect your jaw health as you age.
For example, you can modify your diet to support your jaw health. Try eating more anti-inflammatory foods, and cutting or reducing foods that put stress on your jaw. And of course, eating a balanced and nutritious diet will not just benefit your jaw, it will also benefit your overall health.
Take care of your oral health. Gum disease threatens your jawbone as well as your teeth. It also encourages a chronic inflammatory state that has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis that commonly attacks the temporomandibular joint.
Supplements can support bone and joint health and help maintain bone density. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help strengthen your bones, and glucosamine and chondroitin are regularly recommended to improve joint health. Consult with your dentist about the best supplements to support your jaw health.
It’s almost important not to overwork your jaw. This means avoiding foods that are difficult or repetitive to chew, such as gum, and also watching out for bad habits like clenching or grinding your teeth, chewing on pens or fingernails, and even resting your chin on your hand, or holding the phone between your head and your shoulder. You can help give some relief to your jaw with gentle stretches and massage, good posture, and reminding yourself to keep your face relaxed when at rest.
Be aware that high-impact exercises can stress your jaw joint just like it stresses other joints. Try to mix high-impact and low-impact exercises to maintain your fitness.
In the end, the best step you can take towards protecting your jaw health as you age is to see your dentist regularly. Dr. Paul Hahn and Dr. Adam Hahn are experienced TMJ dentists and can help you keep an eye on your jaw health and work to counteract any damage that is already being done.