Recently, Claire Embleton, a 38-year-old mother of four in Liverpool required invasive jaw surgery to correct her temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) because she chewed too much gum.

But she’s not alone. The development of TMJ related to chewing gum is all too common, especially among teens. The good news is that it’s preventable and it can often be treated using less invasive methods.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Chewing gum is a good thing for your oral health when done in moderation. It can remove food particles from your teeth, as well as significant amounts of oral bacteria. It also stimulates saliva production that lowers the pH in your mouth, helping to protect your teeth from acidic damage. And the activity of chewing is linked to brain activity, so it can help keep your mind fit, but it can be damaging.

Ms. Embleton, however, had reached a point where gum chewing was definitely excessive. She was chewing gum for five hours a day during the week and maybe seven hours a day on the weekends. It has been millions of years since human beings were equipped for this kind of chewing–we abandoned it as we began cooking and eating high-value food sources like meats and grains. So it’s not a surprise that she began to experience symptoms of TMJ.

Her first warning sign was the presence of popping and clicking in her jaw. She thought it wasn’t serious because it wasn’t accompanied by any pain, but it wasn’t too much longer that her jaw actually stuck open, and she experienced significant jaw pain.

Instead of seeking professional help right away, she tried to combat the pain and stuck jaw using painkillers at home. Unfortunately, this was inadequate, and the progressive damage continued.

By the time she did seek professional help, the damage to her jaw joint was extensive. A minimally-invasive surgery known as arthroscopy was inadequate to treat her jaw joint damage. Now she needs jaw joint replacement, which is an expensive, invasive surgery.

Tips for Avoiding TMJ Surgery

Jaw joint replacement is the only reasonable treatment for TMJ that develops to a certain point, but there are many things that we can do to prevent TMJ from advancing to to that point. Taking proper care of your jaw joint early means that you can avoid invasive surgery later.

Avoid overtaxing your jaw: If you chew gum, do it only occasionally and try to limit the amount of time chewing. Typically, about 15 minutes of gum chewing is adequate to get all the oral health benefits. Really crunchy or chewy foods should be regarded as occasional treats, not everyday staples (and, really, based on recent information, it’s good to do a re-assessment of your diet anyway). Avoid bad habits like chewing on nonfood objects like fingernails, the ends of pens or pencils, and ice cubes. Don’t use your teeth as tools, such as pliers, nutcrackers, or bottle openers.

Know and Respond to symptoms: Learn the symptoms of TMJ and respond when you begin to experience them. Some symptoms, like the jaw popping and clicking Ms. Embleton experienced, are classic symptoms of disc displacement in the jaw joint, while others may be less recognizable, such as chronic headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and neck, back, or shoulder pain. Seeking professional care early can really help reduce your risk of needing jaw surgery.

Try several treatments: TMJ is a complex condition that can have several causes and may require multiple treatments to resolve. Often, a team approach is necessary, combining treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, neuromuscular dentistry, and maybe even medications. When used properly, these can prevent the need for surgical intervention.

If you have noticed symptoms of TMJ and are looking for treatment in Sydney, please call  for an appointment with a Baulkham Hills neuromuscular dentist at My Hills Dentist today.