Probably not. The major cause of this jaw dysfunction, as my jaw TMJ/TMD practice has experienced, is STRESS. We are living in very stressful times. The economy is slowly recovering and family life has been disrupted by both parents having to work to make ends meet. To make matters worse, kids with time intensive extracurricular activities like sports, cause family sit down dinners to be a rare occurrence. When can we reduce stress and finally enjoy life?
To communicate and to laugh together? In order to recognize unconstructive habits or lifestyle changes that can help, it’s important to understand the mechanisms by which stress affects the body and what can be done about it.
Controlling our bodily functions, without our knowledge, is the Autonomic Nervous System. This system is made up of two opposite systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. As the Autonomic Nervous system receives stimuli from the external environment it automatically responds by activating a body process using the sympathetic system, or inhibiting responses using the parasympathetic system. Many of us are aware of the “fight or flight” reaction that the sympathetic system prepares as a response to stress or an emergency situation, including clenching and grinding of teeth.
The parasympathetic system controls the bodily processes during ordinary life, including the speeding up and slowing down of heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and simulating proper digestion—all of which allow us to restore and build tissues, heal, and reproduce.
What most of us also know, but lose sight of, is what we can do to have some measure of control over these functions. When possible, we must take a break from the “Rat Race”. Understanding that our digestion cannot take place properly with stress dominating our minds, on every possible occasion we must take time to sit down, relax, eat nutritiously and find something to laugh about. Choose another time for business. Sitting down to eat dinner with the whole family is invaluable. Turn off the TV and get to know each other. I was blessed with a wife that could make a room full of people laugh and, as I look back, I can’t think of a dinner without laughter. True laughter stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which takes away many of the effects of stress and allows proper digestion to occur. It is also hard to clench or grind teeth while laughing.
Some might wonder why I got off on this tangent when my goal is to deal with TMJ/TMD problems. I regularly get my patients pain free quite quickly, but, to make it a lasting change, dietary and lifestyle changes are sometimes required. At my practice the goal is to help our patients understand the cause of the problem that brought them to me and, hopefully, guide them in the elimination of that cause.
The opposite of stress is thought by most to be relaxation. I would like to propose that the opposite of stress is happiness. Not the “happiness” of a new car or a promotion, etc., but the happiness that comes from internal serenity. That kind of happiness is “Rat Race” free and truly free as well. Some time ago I came upon a book by Matthieu Ricard entitled Happiness. This book explains why we have the emotions we enjoy or suffer from, what causes them and their underlying purpose. If you are ready to find real happiness and enjoyment in your life, this is a must read.