Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Temporomandibular joint problems are rampant in the U.S. In fact, it's so prevalent that people don't even bother adding "problem," "disfunction," or "issue" after the letters TMJ. People say, "I have TMJ." Everybody knows what they mean.
We clench, we grind our teeth. For some, the joint where upper and lower jaw comes together is so tight they can barely open their mouths, or they have to move the bottom jaw at an angle in order to yawn. It's very sad. At night these unfortunate souls wear bite guards because they can't even relax the jaw while they sleep. For many people it actually gets worse when they sleep. It's a big problem.
I could write a post about chronic anxiety and frustration in my society, I could write about how we're jacked up on caffeine, sleep deprived, overworked and stressed out of our minds. Our behaviors become more than a sum of their parts. These behaviors define modern day Americans. It is very sad, and ... is it any wonder we clench? I'm a massage therapist and I clench, though not to the point of needing a bite guard, thank god.
There are ways to engage the TMJ that can help us feel calmer and more satisfied. What I'm saying is, we need to chew.
I bite, therefore I am. It's true that, back in the day, if you didn't have teeth to bite and chew, you would soon die. Teeth, the jaws, the ability to bite and chew is intimately connected to the survival instinct. The maseter muscle, responsible for closing the jaws, is the strongest muscle in your body. Yes, stronger than the quads, stronger than the biceps. There is power in biting and chewing. There is potential for moving a lot of energy by chewing. And yet, as important as it is, we don't bite or chew much these days.
Most of the food we eat is soft. A burger and fries, plus a milkshake? You could probably eat all of that without teeth. The same goes for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It's currently in vogue to blend or juice food that could be crunchy, like carrots and kale. I see lots of recipes on the internet for blended foods, horrendous combinations of veggies and fruits, blended to a pulp, swallowed without any need to chew.
I know, people eat salads, but do they chew their salad or inhale it? We are really fast eaters in the U.S.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing food is important. If you swallow it whole, or blend it until it needs no chewing, you're skipping the first step in digestion. The next time you're at the drugstore or health food store, check out the indigestion and reflux medicines. There are a million of them. Have you ever wondered why we have such a hard time digesting what we eat? There are many reasons, of course. One major reason is that we don't chew our food.
I see people rushing to the Metro, stuffing bites of scone into their mouths as they talk on the phone. How well do you think these people chew the scone before swallowing? Well?
In addition to assisting with digestion, chewing triggers satiety within the brain. It surely does. Chewing is satisfying on many levels. It's grounding, it's instinctual. Chewing makes us feel safe and well fed at a primal level. Chewing helps us think. It's calming.
We need to chew!
Chewing gum is not the same thing. A part of the satisfaction of chewing is feeling the food change in the mouth. Gum changes at first - softens, the sugar dissolves, but after that it stay the same. Chewing gum will only make your jaw stiffer. Just chew your food, that's all I ask.
I could say more, but I'll stop now. Please take care of your teeth. The people who study these things have linked bad teeth and unhealthy gums to many diseases including heart disease. Take care of your teeth so you can bite and chew. Yes? I say yes.