TMJ and the Harmful Effects of Teeth Grinding

Do you wake up with a sore jaw and a headache? There’s a good chance you may be grinding or clenching your teeth in your sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 8% of adults in the United States suffer from sleep bruxism while up to 14% of children grind or clench during their sleep.

There are plenty of factors to consider when trying to determine the root cause of your bruxism. Common contributing factors can include stress, anxiety, abnormal jaw alignment or sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is also another common problem associated with grinding or clenching your teeth. In observance of National TMJ Awareness Month, Dr. Devang Shah and the talented staff at Dental Smiles at Dacula explain the symptoms and possible solutions for patients suffering from TMJ.

TMJ Basics: What is it?

TMJ refers to the dysfunction of the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw. This dysfunction can have an effect on patients’ ability to chew and speak properly. According to TMJ Hope, an organization aimed to provide support for women dealing with jaw pain, approximately 1 in 12 Americans have TMJ disorder.

The early symptoms of TMJ may not initially be alarming. In fact, a large portion of TMJ patients have a hard time determining whether they have TMJ or not because these symptoms are common in other health problems. Some of the most common symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Facial pain
  • Earaches
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Pain from chewing or yawning
  • Tender jaw or facial muscles
  • A drastic change in the way the top and bottom set of teeth fit together
  • Tooth sensitivity from teeth grinding

Another tell-tale sign of TMJ is a clicking or popping sound from the jaw. Many TMJ patients report the feeling of the jaw “getting stuck” or locking out for a brief second. If you notice any of these symptoms or suspect you have TMJ, you should address the problem as soon as possible to minimize damage that can occur to your jaw or dental health.

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of this disorder, there are various contributing factors to consider. Some of the contributing causes that can increase your likelihood of developing TMJ include:

  • Injuries to the jaw
  • Chronic teeth grinding or clenching
  • Arthritis
  • Diseases of connective tissue that affect the jaw joint

The Relationship Between TMJ and Bruxism

Chronic teeth grinding or clenching and TMJ are related in many ways. TMJ can cause patients to begin to grind or clench their teeth and vice versa; Chronic grinding or clenching is also known to cause TMJ.

Your dentist should be able to spot these issues at your regular dental check-ups. In most instances, patients will have unusual wear on their teeth and experience tooth sensitivity. These symptoms in conjunction with jaw pain or the clicking/popping of the jaw are clear signs of problems related to TMJ and bruxism.

These two issues are often related because of the alignment of the jaw. An abnormal bite can cause patients to grind or clench their teeth and can also cause the dysfunction of the jaw joint.

Dental Health Dangers of Bruxism

Regardless of the cause of grinding or clenching, bruxism can cause significant damage to your oral health. Your teeth can handle quite a bit of wear and tear from chewing, but pressure placed on your teeth from chronic bruxism will inevitably cause irreversible damage to your teeth.

As the teeth continue to wear down, patients will experience tooth sensitivity. This occurs because the outer protective layer of the tooth, known as the enamel, is worn down. The inner layers of the tooth below the enamel are less resistant to pressure from grinding and eventually, the tooth pulp, where the blood vessels and nerves are located, will be exposed.

It’s important to note that several factors can worsen or contribute to your bruxism. Some of the contributing factors include:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Side effects of psychotropic drugs (antidepressants and antipsychotics)

Addressing Bruxism and TMJ

The good news is that patients won’t usually develop TMJ from bruxism until after a long period of time. This gives you plenty of time to address issues of grinding or clenching before it causes serious problems and dysfunction with your jaw. There are a variety of options to address your bruxism, including:

  • Using a mouthguard for sleep grinding/clenching
  • Using relaxation techniques
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding or limiting caffeine consumption
  • Speaking with your doctor about the side effects of medication

Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to treat TMJ once a patient has developed the disorder. Some of your options to lessen the pain of TMJ include:

  • Using an over-the-counter medication or anti-inflammatory drug
  • Using heated or cold packs for the area
  • Using occlusal appliances like an oral splint to address abnormal jaw placement
  • Surgical procedures to address jaw placement

Contact Dental Smiles at Dacula

TMJ and bruxism cause quite a bit of pain and damage to dental health. If you have concerns about your oral health, we urge you to contact our office. We offer a variety of dental services to best address your individual concerns. To find out more about how we can help your oral health, contact our office today to schedule your consultation with Dr. Shah.

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