Over 11 million people have experienced TMJ pain of some kind, and there’a a notable overlap between patients with TMJ disorders and people who grind their teeth. If you regularly clench or grind your teeth, or think that you’re grinding in your sleep, there’s a good chance that these two problems are exacerbating one another.
At ChapmanSmiles Orthodontics in Happy Valley, Clackamas, Oregon, orthodontist Dr. Gary Chapman can examine your teeth for signs of bruxism, and tell you if teeth grinding and your TMJ pain are connected.
The link between bruxism and TMJ
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is what connects your lower mandible to your skull. This area naturally experiences a lot of repetitive movement and pressure as you speak, bite, and chew. TMJ disorders occur when the tendons or discs within the joint become inflamed and painful, often due to trauma or overuse.
Another common cause of TMJ pain is teeth grinding, or bruxism. During the day, you might find yourself clenching your teeth or tightening your jaw due to stress or anxiety. At night, you could be affected by sleep bruxism, which occurs when you’re unconscious. If you’re habitually clenching or grinding your teeth, it puts added stress on your TMJ and can cause significant pain.
Signs of nighttime grinding
It can be difficult to tell whether you’re grinding in your sleep, which is why sleep bruxism often goes undiagnosed for years. Unlike sleep apnea, teeth grinding usually doesn’t make enough noise to bother bed partners, and most people don’t realize their symptoms are caused by bruxism.
The symptoms of nighttime grinding are often mild, including:
- Sensitive teeth
- Morning headaches
- Tenderness of the face, jaw, and neck
- Sleep disruptions and poor sleep
- Damage to the insides of your cheeks
If you already suffer from a TMJ disorder, you might notice that your jaw pain is worse in the morning. Many people describe an aching tightness when they move their mouth, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely.
Finding a solution
The best way to confirm or deny whether you’re grinding is by going to the dentist.
At ChapmanSmiles, Dr. Chapman can find evidence of bruxism by examining your teeth. If you’ve been grinding in your sleep, you’ll have signs of enamel loss, chips/fractures, and even flattened or worn-down molars.
Luckily, there’s a solution for both TMJ pain and sleep bruxism. Dr. Chapman can take digital impressions of your teeth to design a custom-fitted nightguard.
This not only protects against bruxism while you sleep, but it also takes pressure off the temporomandibular joint, alleviating symptoms of TMJ disorders. The best part is that it’s fitted to your teeth, so it’s comfortable to wear and easy to sleep in.
Struggling with TMJ pain? Want to get to the bottom of your morning headaches? Schedule a consultation with Dr. Chapman and his team by calling 503-659-5000, or request an appointment online.