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What Is FOMO (and how is it linked to TMD)?

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: November 29, 2017

I am blessed with three wonderful daughters, so over the years I’ve experienced their ever-changing “millennial-speak”. And, I have at times heard acronyms that typify what is in their heads and what is driving them. Not long ago FOMO came into my consciousness for the first time (for those who may not know, FOMO is short for Fear of Missing Out. One of their friends was dismayed about not being able to attend a party that she was dying to go to, and FOMO was how she described how she felt. I really didn’t give it much thought and moved on with the conversation.

Several days later I met a new patient in my office that was in the midst of a TMJ crisis. I’ll call her Amanda. Amanda’s symptoms were full blown and characterized by debilitating headaches, jaw pain, inability to open her mouth wide or bring her teeth together properly, and she couldn’t eat anything of substance without additional suffering. This state of misery prompted her mother to come along fearing that her daughter had some terrible illness. What she discovered is that even a great experience, if it has the right elements, can cause TMD.

Fortunately when Amanda’s history was revealed and when I performed the examination, it was clear that her suffering was not a result of some underlying medical disease but due to common factors that pushed her jaw and neck muscles into a state of spasm. Having never experienced this type of problem before, my Amanda couldn’t understand how she had gotten to this point of misery.

I went on to explain that muscles can only get to this degree of spasm when they have been pushed beyond their limits to a point of complete exhaustion. We then began to talk about what had gone one during the previous four months of her life. And here’s the clue: Amanda had recently returned home from her college semester abroad. It was four months of weekend excursions and endless arrays of parties, all characterized by the excitement that comes with exploring a new place. Did she ever consider just staying still for more than a few days? Interestingly, her symptoms began even before she arrived home in the U.S.

At this point her mother blurted out the acronym “FOMO!” And suddenly the connection was made. Amanda’s quest not to miss out had taken its toll. Her longstanding day clenching and nail biting behaviors (which had been previously tolerated) along with sleep deprivation and her state of perpetual exhilaration was all directly related to the spasmodic state of her jaw and neck muscles.

With this awareness and education in place the healing process began

immediately. Sleep restoration, sensible eating (and reduced caffeine consumption), cessation of day clenching and nail biting, and a more reasonable social schedule has already helped to restore this young lady’s muscle health and comfort in a few short weeks.

The millennium generation has plenty of challenges ahead. I suspect that I will be seeing many more young patients who let FOMO get the upper hand.

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