Does Your Winter Sports Involvement Put You At Risk For A Jaw Disorder?

Whether you are a skiing enthusiast or a recreational snowboarder, winter sports put a lot of stress on your body. Not only are your muscles put to the test on your favorite runs, but other part of your body tense up, as well. A lot of people don't realize that being involved in winter sports affects their oral health. It can even lead to a painful jaw disorder known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). If you are someone who likes to hit the slopes, this article is for you.

How does Winter Sports Involvement Cause TMJD?

You are probably wondering how winter sports can cause a jaw disorder, right? There are 2 ways that TMJD develop. The first is due to genetic factors and the second is caused by environmental factors. If you have a genetic tendency toward TMJD, you probably noticed problems in your adolescence and have already talked to a dentist about it. However, if you haven't had a previous experience with TMJD, it could still develop due to environmental factors that cause:

  • Physical Tension: As mentioned above, skiing and snowboarding puts physical stress on your body. Have you ever caught yourself gritting your teeth on a particularly sharp turn? You might not notice it when doing winter sports, but tensing the muscles in your legs and arms tightens up your jaw, as well. As tension builds in your jaw, it can damage your joint.
  • An Imbalanced Bite: Because of the tension in your jaw, your joint can shift. Even a slight shift causes an imbalanced bite because your teeth are not perfectly aligned. Over time, this imbalance becomes more noticeable.
  • A Misaligned Joint: After skiing or snowboarding, do you ever feel like you have to pop your jaw? Maybe you yawn a few times, trying to get it to feel normal again. If you notice any popping or shifting, you have a misaligned joint. Gritting or grinding your teeth while on the slopes will contribute to the poor alignment.

What are the Symptoms of TMJD?

Now that you know how your physical activities might increase the stress on your jaw joint, you need to know what the symptoms of TMJD are. Even if your symptoms seem minor – they only last a few days or they only happen when you've been boarding – you should see a dentist about the possibility of TMJD. Major symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Popping or Clicking: When you open your mouth to talk, eat, or even breathe, you will notice that your jaw pops or clicks. Pops and clicks are often audible sounds accompanied by fleeting pain as your jaw opens and closes.
  • Shifting Jawbone: Shifts in the joint are first noticeable when you open and close your mouth. However, as TMJD progresses, you might wake up with your jaw shifted slightly one direction and have to manually readjust the lower jaw to sit in the joint comfortable again.
  • Head and Neck Pain: TMJD is a painful disorder. It starts in your jaw and can make it difficult to chew or talk. However, it doesn't stop there. It progresses to the rest of your head and neck, as well. You might develop painful headaches that last days at a time. You may also notice that your tension in your neck increases and it becomes painful to turn your head.

Can You Prevent TMJD from Developing Without Altering Your Sports Activity?

Preventing TMJD is definitely ideal. If you allow it to progress, you face expensive treatments including TMJ therapy, braces, or even jaw reconstruction surgery. However, there is 1 simple way to protect your jaw while participating in winter sports: wear a mouth guard. You can find a sports mouth guard at a sporting goods store, or your dentist can make a custom one that fits comfortably in your mouth. Whichever option you choose, it should help keep tension off your jaw so you can ski or snowboard comfortably.

Enjoying Canada's winter sports is part of everyday life. Unfortunately, if you don't wear a mouth guard, TMJD could become part of your everyday life, as well. To avoid the pain and other setbacks of TMJD, talk to your dentist about which type of mouth guard is best for you.