Grinding or clenching of your teeth (bruxism) can be a very serious problem that can result in severe damage to your teeth, damage to your TMJs (jaw joints), and cause headaches. The damage from bruxing occurs slowly over time, but if caught early can be treated to prevent the need for extensive restorative treatment or debilitating jaw joint problems.
According to the NIDCR, temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called “TMJ,” are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement.
Researchers generally agree that the conditions fall into three main categories:
- Myofascial pain involves discomfort or pain in the muscles that control jaw function.
- Internal derangement of the joint involves a displaced disc, dislocated jaw, or injury to the condyle.
- Arthritis refers to a group of degenerative/inflammatory joint disorders that can affect the temporomandibular joint.
A person may have one or more of these conditions at the same time.
Some estimates suggest that TMJ disorders affect over 10 million Americans. These conditions appear to be more common in women than in men.
How do I know if I have TMJ/TMD?
Here is a simple checklist from Colgate Pro
- Unusual sounds — Clicking, grinding or popping sounds when you open your mouth are common in people with TMD. The sounds may or may not be accompanied by pain. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, researchers believe that most people with popping or clicking in the jaw joint probably have a displaced disc. However, they also note that as long as the displaced disc causes no pain or problems with jaw movement, no treatment is needed.
- Locking or limited movement — The jaw joint is similar to a ball-and-socket joint except that the socket itself is movable. The jaw joint sometimes may lock in an open or closed position. You may have difficulty opening your mouth either because the joint is locked or because of pain.
- ” Ear” pain — You may think you have an ear infection, but ear pain may be related to jaw joint inflammation or muscle tenderness. Pain from TMD is usually felt in front of or below the ear.
- Headaches — People with TMD often report headaches. Your dentist can help to determine if your specific headache symptoms are a result of TMD. In some situations, you may need to consult a physician to help diagnose and treat certain headaches not related to TMD.
- Morning stiffness or soreness — If your jaw muscles are stiff and sore when you wake up, it may by a sign that you are clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep. Clenching or grinding teeth can exhaust jaw muscles and lead to pain.
- Difficulty chewing — You may have difficulty chewing as a result of a change in your bite—the way your upper and lower teeth fit together. This shift in your bite may be related to TMD.
- Previous injuries and related conditions — A recent injury to the jaw joint or one from many years past can lead to TMJ/TMD symptoms. Arthritis in the joint also may arise from injury. Arthritis already affecting other joints may affect the jaw joint and lead to TMD.
- Others — Though the research is controversial, a feeling of fullness of the ears or ringing in the ears may sometimes be related to TMD. In these cases, consultation with an “ear, nose and throat” physician can help establish the final diagnosis.
What to do?
First, set up an appointment with a professional (don’t diagnose yourself) and do not wait until your molars doth protest too much. Early intervention is key to preventing the flood of problems outlined above. So, what to do?
Tried and true: Night Guards
A night guard is an appliance much like a retainer used to protect your teeth while you are sleeping. This device is commonly recommended for people who suffer from bruxism, or excessive nighttime teeth grinding or clenching. Because this solution is natural (drug-free) and has been tested (and works); it is what your dentist will recommend.
The Last Word:
Don’t be scammed by imposter night guards that ‘fit all’, please see your dental health professional and be properly fitted with a night guard tailored to your individual situation.
Do you have one or more of the items on the checklist above? Let us help.