We all know that bad habits can be hard to break — they become a subconscious reaction that we might not even be aware of. For our TMD patients, it’s important to reduce or stop habits like nail biting or chewing on pencils, as they trigger pain in the TMJ. We recognize that this is easier said than done, so here are a few tips on how to be more mindful of these actions and stop them before they become a habit.
How Do Habits Form?
Why does it seem like it’s easier to start a habit than to stop one? When you began nail biting, slouching or clenching your jaw, your brain picked up on a trigger that sparked a subconscious reaction. From then on, every time your brain encountered that trigger (stress, for example), it would activate that associated reaction (so, maybe you would automatically bite your nails as a way to relieve that anxiety). You probably don’t even realize you’re doing it until maybe a family member tells you to stop.
To stop nail biting or any other habit requires conscious effort, which is more challenging than being on autopilot. It takes repetition to disrupt the trigger and successfully change the habit. With consistency, however, you should be able to see a difference in 30 days.
While you now may be aware that certain actions cause pain to flair up around your TMJ, we like to remind our patients why these common activities should be avoided:
- Nail biting — As mentioned, biting down on nails causes unwanted stress on the jaw.
- Cutting — Avoid using your teeth to open or cut something, as this can also cause stress and irritate the jaw.
- Teeth grinding — Causes overuse of the jaw muscles
- Hard to chew foods — We don’t want you to avoid carrots or apples, but if you eat them, cut them into small pieces. Gum chewing or sticky sweets like caramel will only exacerbate your symptoms.
We are happy to answer any questions or provide resources that complement your TMD therapy with us. Please feel free to contact our office, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.