It’s hard to deny that eating is an activity that most people enjoy doing — after all, we all have our favorite foods and snacks. However, chances are, you might experience difficulty chewing at one point or another throughout your life. If it is your first time experiencing trouble when chewing, you might feel confused and scared.
From simple inflammations to temporomandibular disorders, there are a lot of things that can cause chewing disorders. But how do we know if we are dealing with TMD or something less dangerous? And should we rush to the dentist as soon as possible?
What Are the Symptoms of Chewing Problems?
Chewing problems are pretty common, especially among people that tend to eat a lot of hard foods. And while knowing the cause is important, first you need to know what you are dealing with. Here are some symptoms that can help you differentiate between a simple soreness and serious chewing disorders:
- Constant pain when chewing
- Trouble when eating specific foods
- A feeling of tiredness after eating
Why Am I Experiencing Difficulty Chewing?
As previously mentioned, chewing problems can be triggered by a variety of things. These include anything from missing teeth to serious disorders such as TMD:
- Missing teeth
- Weak teeth
- Jaw inflammation
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
It goes without saying that even one missing tooth can hinder chewing. That’s because each tooth has its own role in the eating process. For example, we use molars to chew food and front teeth for biting. So the more molars you have missing, the harder time you will have when chewing.
But luckily, there are a few things you can do about missing teeth. For example, implants or dentures can help you experience pain-free chewing. Additionally, bridges can fill the gaps between molars, allowing you to use them again.
Generally speaking, teeth are strong and can handle most hard foods. However, the protective layer, also known as enamel, can degrade, lowering teeth strength. Once that happens, chewing will become harder and you will most likely experience pain and discomfort.
If that’s the case, then you can either avoid hard foods or try to strengthen the enamel of your teeth. Eating dairy products will increase your calcium levels, improving the strength of your bones and teeth. Furthermore, you can try using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your teeth.
Depending on your diet, you might experience jaw inflammation. Hard foods such as nuts and vegetables can take a toll on your teeth and jaw. Additionally, sticky foods can make your jaw work even harder, often causing said inflammation. Combine that with a few missing teeth and you have the perfect recipe for chewing problems.
To prevent that from happening, you can take a few breaks when eating different types of food. But keep in mind that jaw inflammation is not normal and may be a symptom of other chewing disorders.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The Temporomandibular Joint, also known as TMJ, is a hinge that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. It lets us move our jaw in different directions, allowing us to talk and eat. However, some people experience what’s known as TMD, or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder.
There is also a bit of confusion surrounding those two terms, as people often misuse them. But usually, TMJ (https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmj) refers to the joint while TMD covers all the disorders associated with it.
What Causes TMD?
While the cause of TMD is still under debate, dentists believe that problems with the muscles around the jaw are what triggers it. Additionally, injuries to the jaw or head are also commonly accepted causes. Some of the other causes are:
- Joint arthritis
- Teeth grinding or bruxism
- Movement of the disc that sits between the socket of the joint and the ball
What Are the Symptoms of TMD?
The first signs of TMD are severe pain and discomfort around the jaw area. You might experience this pain temporarily when chewing or permanently throughout the day. Other common symptoms are:
- Trouble when trying to open your mouth wide
- Swelling on both sides of your face
- Trouble chewing or pain when biting
- A clicking sound when the mouth opens and closes
- The jaw gets stuck in closed or open-mouth positions
What Can I Do About TMD?
Depending on the severity, TMJ disorders can be resolved in a few different ways. You should first try to reduce the strain you put on your jaw. You can do that by eating soft foods, massaging your jaw muscles, and placing ice or heat packets on that area. The pain should fade away and the symptoms should disappear in a matter of days.
However, if you are having trouble opening or closing your mouth and the pain is too much to handle, call your dentist immediately. They will most likely recommend painkillers and a series of relaxation techniques to help you unclench your jaw. In some rare instances, your dentist may recommend open-joint surgery. But you shouldn’t worry about it, as the procedure is painless and has no side effects.
How Can I Prevent TMJ Disorders?
As always, prevention is better than cure, and there are a few tips you can follow to prevent TMD:
- You should avoid chewing gum
- Try to reduce the number of hard foods you eat
- Don’t rest your head on your chin
- Curb bad habits such as teeth grinding
- Avoid chewing on only one side of your mouth
The Bottom Line
All in all, chewing problems are pretty common, especially if you have a history of dental problems. From weak to missing teeth, anything could hinder your ability to chew. As such, good dental hygiene will most likely prevent further chewing troubles.
However, you should pay extra attention to the symptoms, as they might be pointing toward TMJ disorders. If you suspect that’s the case, then give your local dentist a call. While some disorders are less dangerous than others, a professional can help you and your jaw. And remember that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.