TMJ is already an extremely common disorder, affecting over 10 million Americans by some estimates. But could it be getting more common over time? That’s the question some people are asking after a new report from ATI Physical Therapy found that Millennials are seeking physical therapy for TMJ more than any previous generation.
Are Millennials More Prone to TMJ?
If more Millennials are seeking physical therapy treatment for TMJ, does this mean that Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are more likely to experience the joint disorder than previous generations? After all, studies have already linked some of the habits of modern teens, such as chewing gum and getting oral piercings, to higher prevalence of TMJ. And TMJ has already shouldered some of the blame for the “text neck” epidemic, a problem that disproportionately affects smartphone-obsessed Millennials.
And while every generation has experienced stress, which can exacerbate and even trigger TMJ, studies have shown that Millennials are more stressed than any generation before them. Stress can cause people to clench or grind their teeth, leading to tension in the jaw that can injure the fragile temporomandibular joint responsible for moving the jaw. And of course, common signs of stress are also common symptoms of TMJ: Headaches, bruxism, and muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. So are stressed-out Millennials clenching and grinding their way to TMJ?
When it comes down to it, there’s no solid evidence that Millennials suffer from TMJ any more than other generations. Instead, it may be that Millennials are seeking more physical therapy because they have more access to it. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Millennials may find that their healthcare plan covers physical therapy for the first time in their life. The ACA’s focus on preventative care programs may actually be positively benefiting physical therapists’ business.
Or maybe Millennials are more likely to seek physical therapy over more traditional medical approaches to TMJ because of their affinity for alternative healthcare. When faced with the choice between seeing a doctor or dentist for TMJ treatment or trying an alternative treatment like physical therapy or acupuncture, Millennials may be more likely than their older relatives to choose the latter.
Can Physical Therapy Cure TMJ?
Unfortunately for Millennials, physical therapy alone probably won’t cure TMJ. It can certainly help increase muscle mobility and reduce pain and discomfort that stems from the disease, but TMJ is more than just muscle tension, and treating the symptoms won’t help the root of the problem.
Physical therapy could very well be an important part of a TMJ treatment regimen, but the key to treatment still lies in the hands of a trained doctor or TMJ dentist. Without proper treatment, the malocclusion, or “bad bite,” that causes the symptoms of TMJ and damages the complex temporomandibular joint can worsen and do irreparable damage. Speak to your dentist to learn more about what kind of treatments are possible for your TMJ.