DR. HOOK- Gummed up: Talk and chaws aggravate TMJ

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my faaaavorite movies of all time. I know every single dingle song in the original movie. "I want the world, I want the whole world! I want to lock it up all up in my pocket, it's my bar of chocolate! Give it to me, now!" 

Now how great is that? Veruca Salt– which is an appropriate pun for a wart– eventually is deemed a "bad egg" after singing this song and is sent to the furnace. Talk about burning off a wart!

I got to see Whoopi Goldberg, and she commented on today's kids' bad manners– never mind their parents'. For a woman who says the "F" word as freely as "please" and "thank you," she does have a point.

Back to Willy Wonka, Violet Beauregarde chews gum like a cow in heat. Chomp, chomp, and ka-chomp! Personally, I hate hearing someone crack gum like a whip in the Devo video, Whip It. Well, girlfriend defies Willy Wonka and chews a piece of gum that turns her into a blueberry. Poor thing– she became a juicy fruit.

She might also have developed Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, a condition that can occur with too much gum chewing– and hopefully from too much sassing. That joint is where the jaw connects to the skull, and it allows the jaw to move and chew. The syndrome, which doctors dub TMJ, can occur because the joint itself is damaged– from arthritis or displacement. More often, though, TMJ is a result of muscles tension, in particular, bruxism (tooth grinding).

The majority of my patients with bruxism deny that they grind their teeth.

 "I do not!" they tell me with their teeth clenched. (Now if they were a ventriloquist, I'd believe them.) Bite guards for sleeping can be key to getting rid of TMJ. For those, like me, who clench their teeth like hungry alligators, behavioral modification is in order– like stretching the mouth open and saying, "Ooooo". (No, I'm not an owl. I'm relaxing my Temporomandibular Joint, thank you very much.)

TMJ pain is usually affects only one side of the jaw, but it can be both sides. Pain is located in front of the ear and can radiate to the ear, down the jaw, and even to the neck. Now that's a mouthful! Headaches commonly occur with TMJ. Chewing and being a Chatty Cathy aggravate the pain.

When someone has acute TMJ, chewing gum needs to be avoided like Michael Richards at an NAACP meeting. Hard foods should be avoided as well. I've even seen people with such severe TMJ they live entirely on baby food! Anti-inflammatories can reduce pain, and for most people, it goes away.

However, for those with chronic TMJ, treatment is as fun as driving with Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson after a party. If there's an underlying jaw problem that keeps the jaw misaligned, oral surgery or braces might be needed. (I've had braces as an adult, so my bite is no longer worse than my bark.) 

Muscle relaxers and sedatives can be used, and you can even get physical therapy for TMJ, but therapists who can do it are as easy to find as Osama bin Laden.

Dentists and oral surgeons are the folks to visit for TMJ if you want some TLC. Just make sure you're polite when you see them, or they might chew you out.

Got a medical question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!