The Diabetes Symptom That Could Affect Your Jaw

When you think of diabetes, the jaw is probably the last thing on your mind. It's more likely that you picture insulin or consider someone's blood sugar levels. While it may seem surprising to you, one symptom of diabetes can negatively impact the jaw. The first step in understanding how this occurs is to learn about what diabetes does to the body.  

People with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels than normal because their bodies can't regulate insulin properly, as explained by Medical News Today. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease. Diabetes can cause blood vessels to narrow, increasing a person's risk of stroke and heart disease. Individuals with the disease can also experience damage to their nerves, also referred to as neuropathy, anywhere in their nervous system. 

Inflammation is a common symptom of diabetes, as noted by WebMD. For those with type 2 diabetes, fat cells release chemicals known as cytokines that contribute to inflammation inside the body. Insulin resistance can occur, which leads to further inflammation as the body becomes less responsive to insulin. 

No part of the body is immune to this inflammation, which is where the jaw comes in. Individuals who experience inflammation as a result of their diabetes may notice problems with their temporomandibular joint (TMJ), according to Riverside Dental Group

How diabetes affects the temporomandibular joint

Inflammation caused by diabetes can be uncomfortable and painful in any part of the body, and the jaw is no exception. You may have heard of temporomandibular disorders (TMD); and, surprisingly, a connection has been discovered between TMD and diabetes. As described by Diabetes Self-Management, the prevalence of TMD may be higher in individuals with diabetes, according to some health experts. 

People with diabetes who are experiencing TMD symptoms may notice pain in their face, jaw, and neck. They may be unable to open their mouth fully and could hear clicking or popping noises that are accompanied by pain when they open or close their mouths. Inflammation can contribute to stiffness and swelling in the jaw, which can make eating, chewing, and talking more difficult for those with this condition.

An interesting 2020 study published in the International Journal of Oral-Medical Sciences examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results of participants with TMD in comparison to participants with diabetes. The researchers concluded that individuals with diabetes are more likely to experience inflammation at the TMJ as a result of their disease, which suggests that closer monitoring of their jaw may be necessary. 

What to do if you have symptoms in your jaw

If you have diabetes and are experiencing painful symptoms of a temporomandibular disorder, you should reach out to your doctor so they can complete a thorough examination of your jaw. Your doctor may recommend getting MRI or ultrasonography if they observe symptoms characteristic of TMD — such as facial pain, bruxism, and abnormal jaw movement — according to American Family Physician. If necessary, TMD can be treated with medications or occlusal splints.

Less severe cases of TMD may be treated at home. You can place a hot or cold compress against your jaw for 15 to 20 minutes, using a thin layer of cloth as a barrier to protect your skin from the compress, as suggested by Penn Medicine. In addition, meditation and relaxation exercises can alleviate some of the stress that causes you to clench your jaw. 

As MedCenterTMJ points out, you may be able to reduce your jaw pain by altering some of your eating habits. For example, you can eat cooked vegetables and fruits to combat the inflammation caused by diabetes. Eating raw vegetables and fruits can aggravate your TMJ even more. With a blender, you can also make smoothies, which are an excellent way to consume healthy nutrients while still being easy on the jaw.