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The holidays are upon us! For many, that means gifts adorned with bows, sparkling lights on trees, gatherings with family and friends… and perhaps some TMJ jaw pain! While the holidays are meant to be a joyous time, they can also bring emotional and physical stress. And if you happen to be suffering from TMJ disorder, “the most wonderful time of the year” can make your TMJ jaw pain worse.

What exactly is TMJ disorder?

Your temporomandibular joints are called TMJ for short. These are a complex system of joints, muscles and ligaments in your jaw that allow you to open and close your mouth. You can find them on both sides of your head. Speaking, chewing and swallowing would be impossible without them. They also allow your lower jaw to move forward, backward and side-to-side.

There is a disc in each TMJ, and it’s located between a ball and socket. Its job is to provide cushioning when you move your jaw. However, if there’s any issue that stops this system from working as it should, you will most likely feel the painful effects of TMJ disorder. These issues include injury, arthritis, misalignment of your teeth and jaw… and yes, stress and teeth grinding! When you grind or clench often (technically known as “bruxism”), you may notice flattened tips of your teeth, enamel that is worn and indentations in your tongue. In other words: TMJ disorder is not fun!

What can you do to prevent TMJ jaw pain during the holidays?

tmj jaw pain

There are so many factors that can trigger stress and overexertion during the holidays. The truth is that everyone’s situation is unique. Here are a few circumstances that can trigger TMJ disorder pain, and tips for how to handle them:

Holiday Gatherings and Parties

Whether you’re getting together with co-workers, friends or family members to celebrate the season, you may feel social anxiety or worried about topics of discussion. Maybe you just don’t want to participate in longstanding traditions because they stress you out for a variety of reasons. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what works and what doesn’t work for you. Understand that you’re in control. Also understand that most people do not have perfect holiday gatherings! So if you’re stressed… Perhaps instead of staying at your family’s house for a week, you can stay for 1 or 2 nights. Or instead of staying for the entire work party, stay for an hour. Do whatever you’re most comfortable with and try not to push yourself too hard.


You may have to travel this year in order to spend time with loved ones. Whether you’re going by car, plane or train – traffic, long waits, delays, uncomfortable seats, and crowds can all cause tension. In these instances, it’s always a good idea to bring a travel pillow with you. It will help provide support for your head, neck, and even your back. This will not only keep you comfortable, but it may stop you from grinding and clenching.


If you’re climbing a ladder to hang lights, carrying a tree from the basement or the car, or piling gifts under the tree, these movements may place stress on your upper back and neck. The two areas can aggravate TMJ pain. If possible, ask for help decorating and try not to lift anything too heavy.

If all else fails…

If your TMJ disorder is flaring up and you can’t get it under control, visit your dentist for an evaluation. He or she can properly diagnose you and fit you for a custom mouth guard or other treatment if necessary. If you live in the Denver area, call 303-984-0307 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Chavez. He would be happy to meet with you!