up close of young woman holding her jaw in painTemporomandibular joint disorders (called either TMJ or TMD) can result in numerous types of pain and dysfunction that can impact your quality of life. For many people, TMJ doesn’t need professional care. It can go away with simple home care, including avoiding bad habits that make it worse.

Here are the ten most common habits that might contribute to your TMJ. However, if eliminating these habits doesn’t help improve your TMJ, it might be time to see a Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist at Bite Align.

Chewing Anything Other Than Food

Your jaw can handle pretty much any food when healthy. However, it has a hard time dealing with what we describe as parafunctional chewing habits. These habits involve chewing on anything other than food or using your teeth contrary to their normal function. Everyday nonfood objects that people chew include:

  • Fingernails
  • Pens and pencils
  • Hair
  • Nutshells
  • Ice
  • Gum (too often)

Chewing on these hard objects can stress your jaw joints and muscles. They can lead to dislocation of the jaw joints and painful strain of the jaw muscles.

This also includes using your teeth as tools to crack nuts or open packages. Your teeth are not scissors or pliers, and trying to use them that way can damage not only your teeth but your jaw.

Ice and gum are not foods. Chewing ice is bad for your teeth as well as your jaw. You should never chew ice! Chewing gum can actually be good for your teeth, so it’s okay for short times. Chew sugar-free gum after a meal to help clean your teeth. However, chewing gum too often or too long can be bad for your jaw.

Taking Big Bites

Big bites are hard on your jaw. Your jaw has to open wide, which can stress your jaw joints and muscles. In addition to the initial stress of opening your jaw too wide, big bites can be harder to chew than smaller bites.

Taking smaller bites is not only good for your jaw, but it’s also good for your health. Chewing more thoroughly before swallowing reduces the risk of choking and impacted food.

Having Poor Posture

Your jaw muscles help support your head as well as your jaw. You increase the difficulty of this task by standing or sitting with poor posture. This can stress your jaw muscles, making them more tender and painful. It can also pull your jaw out of alignment.

Spending Too Much Time on Your Phone

We’re not criticizing the amount of time you spend on your phone so much as the amount of time you spend with your head tilted forward to look at your phone. This makes it harder for your muscles to support your head and can contribute to a TMJ-adjacent condition known as “text-neck.”

If you use your phone a lot, try to adopt a healthy position for doing it.

Clenching and Grinding

Clenching and grinding your teeth (bruxism) is bad for your teeth, of course. It causes your teeth to wear down. However, it’s also hard on your jaw muscles and joints. Try to avoid consciously clenching your teeth.

However, for many people, the problem is nighttime bruxism. This might be a sign of more serious TMJ or it might be linked to sleep apnea.


Everybody has some stress in their lives. There’s nothing we can do about it. However, if you live a high-pressure lifestyle that contributes to stress, it might not be a bad idea to ease back a little. Doing what you can to reduce stress in your life can help reduce tension in your jaw muscles. This can minimize TMJ-related jaw pain and other symptoms.

We know it’s not always easy to reduce stress. Sometimes, it’s worth it to seek professional help for your stress.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Your sleep position can impact your health. Sleeping on your back can make your airway more likely to collapse, contributing to sleep apnea and snoring. However, sleeping on your stomach can be bad for your TMJ. This position can force your jaw back, putting pressure on your temporomandibular joints, leading to more dislocation, popping, clicking, and irregular jaw motion.

Drinking Too Much Caffeine

Coffee and other caffeinated beverages can stimulate your jaw muscles, increasing your risk of jaw clenching and grinding. If you find yourself clenching your jaw, consider your caffeine intake and reduce it until you can avoid clenching and grinding.

Smoking and Other Tobacco Usage

Smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes can expose you to nicotine, which is a stimulant like caffeine. Smoking also exposes you to chemicals that contribute to systemic inflammation. Inflammation can damage your joints, including your jaw joints.

Inefficient Chewing and Swallowing

Healthy chewing and swallowing methods promote the healthy function of your jaw. However, if you have an unhealthy chewing and swallowing technique, it can worsen TMJ. Over the course of your day, you chew and swallow a lot more than you might think. Even between meals, you swallow saliva dozens of times an hour, and the repetitive motions can stress your jaw muscles and joints.

Orofacial myofunctional therapy in Fort Atkinson helps teach you how to improve your chewing and swallowing techniques to improve your jaw health.

Still Have TMJ in Fort Atkinson?

If you have reduced or eliminated these habits, you might observe a reduction in the intensity or frequency of TMJ symptoms. However, if your symptoms haven’t improved, it might be time to seek professional help from Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist Dr. Jennifer Stafford.

For TMJ treatment, please call (920) 563-7323 or use our online form to request an appointment at Bite Align, located in Fort Atkinson across the street from Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts near Johnson Bank.