Can Bad Habits Be Something More?

It’s safe to say many of us have bad habits. They may be nervous habits like twirling our hair or tapping our fingers, or they could be really bad habits like biting our nails or smoking. But sometimes we have habits we don’t realize are bad. One such habit is bruxism, or grinding of the teeth, which many people don’t even realize they’re doing. This of course leads to bigger problems, like broken, cracked or pitted teeth. Another bad habit is biting or chewing on your lips, which of course causes chapped lips and pain.

But did you know that there could be underlying causes to lip biting and teeth grinding - medical, non-stress-related problems that may even have a fix?

There’s a condition called temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and it could be causing you to exhibit some curious behaviors.

"Temporomandibular joint dysfunction affects the temporomandibular joints of the jaw," said Dr. Kelley Mingus, a dentist from Bend, Oregon. "It happens when the jaw bone is not aligned properly with the jaw and the temporomandibular joint."

This misalignment can cause popping and clicking in the jaw, jaw pain, the inability to open and close the jaw, tinnitus, neck and back pain, and more recently it has even been found to cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

But temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also cause two common culprits that people don’t know about: lip biting and teeth grinding.

In fact, an estimated 37 percent of people with temporomandibular joint dysfunction reportedly bite their lips, too - and that’s not all they’re doing. They also have been found to chew on other non-food objects such as pens, fingernails or other items that are a big no-no when it comes to teeth.

"Our teeth aren’t meant to chew anything other than food, which is relatively soft," Mingus said. "Chewing things like fingernails or other hard objects is as bad as grinding your teeth and can cause excess wear."

Excess wear not only wears down the teeth and makes it harder to chew, but it can also decrease the life of things like fillings and crowns.

"Fillings and crowns are meant to last about 20 years, but we see a decrease in that with people who chew on things they shouldn’t," Mingus said.

Worse yet, chewing these things can exacerbate temporomandibular joint dysfunction, too.

As for lip biting, this could be a danger sign that you have TMJ disorder, too, even though the lips are soft.

"Chewing the lips causes chapped, cracked lips, which can become infected," Mingus said. "If you find yourself chewing your lips, contact your dentist to be evaluated - especially if other TMJ dysfunction symptoms are present."