How thumb sucking in adults can cause Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

Many people secretly continue to suck their thumb into adulthood, and it can result in a relatively unknown, but painful condition. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, also known as TMD, affects your jaw joint, which is what enables you to open and close your mouth.  

How can thumb sucking cause TMD?

There are a couple of ways that your thumb sucking can cause TMD.

As you sucked your thumb when you were growing, your habit will have moved your teeth out of alignment and may have reshaped your mouth to accommodate your thumb. If this misalignment was not dealt with by your dentist or orthodontist, then the difficulties in your lower and upper teeth not meeting correctly when chewing or resting will put pressure on your jaw muscles and joint. Eventually, the strain of this will result in TMD.

If, however, you did get your teeth corrected as a child, you may still suffer from TMD if you continue to suck your thumb. The process of thumb sucking causes the muscles in your jaw to tighten in order to hold your thumb in place. The action of sucking makes your muscles clench and all of this work has an effect on your jaw. All of this puts more pressure on your jaw joint and the surrounding muscles, causing TMD.  

Symptoms of TMD

The symptoms of TMD will vary for each individual, but can include:

  • A grinding or grating noise when you move your jaw.
  • Pain when you open your mouth, particularly on the side where your thumb sits in your mouth.
  • Fatigue in the jaw.
  • Earache or headache.  

How to fix your TMD

Thumb sucking is difficult to stop. It is a natural way to give yourself comfort, and the majority of adults don't report any ill effects other than perhaps requiring some orthodontic treatment. Thumb sucking can help you to relax and sleep, and giving this up, even if it's causing you pain, is hard.

If you don't really want to give up the thumb sucking, but you're suffering, then first try to amend your habit. When you find yourself sucking your thumb, relax your jaw and just leave your thumb in your mouth. This might be enough to give you the comfort you crave while not putting any pressure on your jaw.

You should try to suck your thumb less. If you tend to suck your thumb while watching television, try sitting on your hands. Take up knitting or hold your book with both hands to try and keep your hands busy. Leave your thumb sucking for when you absolutely need it, like when sleeping or during a particularly bad day.  

By following these steps, eventually your jaw muscles will relax and recover. The pain will ease, although the symptoms may return periodically. Speak to your dentist at a clinic like Woodvale Dental Surgery if you have any concerns or if the pain won't go away.