Taking care of your teeth has an unseen benefit: It preserves your jaw bone as well. Your jaw is an integral part of your oral health as it connects your teeth to your skull. Caring for your teeth is a big part of caring for your jaw, but there are some additional things you should know.
The Jaw-Teeth Connection
Your jaw’s most basic function is holding your teeth in place so you can use them to chew your food. Therefore, your teeth & jaw are inherently linked. Because the nerves in your teeth go through the roots & into the jaw, some patients feel an aching pain in their jaw when they have a cavity when they would expect to feel it in the affected tooth. Anytime you feel pain in your teeth or jaw, please call your dentist immediately as it could indicate an issue.
Jaw Bone Health
A healthy jaw bone is one with density. When you chew food, especially hard food, the pressure goes through your teeth to your jaw, stimulating the jaw bone to build & maintain its density. When it lacks this stimulation, the jaw deteriorates over time. That’s why, if you lose a tooth, your dentist might recommend getting a dental implant, which is secured to your jaw bone with metal “roots” that transfer chewing pressure to the jaw the same way natural tooth roots do.
Bridges & dentures are common treatments for missing teeth, but they don’t do your jaw bones any favors. In fact, patients who want to get implants who have had a bridge or dentures for long enough might need to get a bone graft to build up bone density so the implant has enough to hold on to.
The Jaw Joints
Your jaw connects to your skull through the temporomandibular joints (TMD). You can actually feel the joints working by putting your fingers in front of your ears & opening & closing your mouth. However, the joints don’t work perfectly for everyone. If you experience pain, clicking or popping when using your jaw, that can indicate an issue, or disorder, with the joint. TMJ disorders are linked to grinding, clenching, headaches & more.
Many dentists offer services to treat TMJ disorders, including mouthguards to prevent grinding while you sleep, but there are also a couple things you can do at home. Exercising the joint can strengthen it & ease some discomfort. Eating soft foods can reduce pain from pressure on your jaw while chewing. Taking care to not open your mouth as wide as possible & avoiding chewing gum can give your jaw a break & prevent unnecessary strain.
The jaw is an important part of your oral health, so if you have any questions or concerns about it, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist!