Living in the nation’s capital, we are quite used to facing all types of stress, such as commuting to work! And many of us may unconsciously try to relieve stress by clenching or grinding our teeth. Small unevenness in our bite may also promote clenching and grinding. In some families, it is just heredity that makes us more susceptible to grinding our teeth.
Clenching or grinding can cause TMJ disorder. The term “TMJ” is often used to refer to facial muscle, jaw joint, or tooth pain as a result of misalignment of the bite, grinding or clenching habits, or from damage in the jaw joint itself. In fact, “TMJ” is an abbreviation for Temporomandibular Joint, the joint that allows our lower jaws to open and move.
TMJ disorder can be a problem that starts in childhood, but can extend into adulthood and can show itself in a variety of ways. If there are bite discrepancies, or unevenness, patients will unconsciously tend to avoid the spots where teeth do not fit together by re-positioning the jaw. This action strains the muscles, resulting in fatigue and soreness. In an attempt to eliminate the bite unevenness, some people also rub the teeth together to wear down the uneven spots. This can result in teeth that wear out prematurely and have a flattened appearance and broken enamel. It can also cause sore muscles.
Clenching and grinding may occur during the day or night, or both. At night, some people clench their teeth hard for up to 60-90 seconds repeatedly during sleep without even knowing. During waking hours, others may clench their jaws in quick bursts throughout the day. This can lead to the classic “stress headache” in the temples, usually in the afternoon.
Symptoms of TMJ disorder can include headaches, tiredness in the muscles below the cheekbones, and even sensitivity in the scalp when brushing hair. Teeth may appear worn down, cracked or loose. To get a better idea of the impact of TMJ disorder, you can take a look at the pressure on our teeth: when chewing food, people apply approximately 60 pounds per square inch of pressure. When a person clenches their jaw, the back teeth can produce pressure of approximately 500 hundred pounds per square inch – which can be very destructive over the years!
What are some signs of TMJ disorder to look for? In addition to the classic warning signs of clenching or grinding, your spouse might report hearing you grinding your teeth at night, or you might be waking up with your teeth clenched together or with facial muscle pain. Excessive muscle pressure can damage not only the teeth but also the jaw joints. A “pop’ or “click” when opening your jaw can progress to pain, dislocation, getting the jaw locked in an open or closed position, and even destruction of the joint itself.
There are solutions to TMJ disorder, and the best approach is to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Frequently your dentist will provide you with a “U” shaped, hard plastic guard to wear on the teeth, usually at night. This protects the teeth from wearing each other down, and helps to break the cycle of grinding by providing a perfect bite with no unevenness. As grinding or clenching continues while wearing the guard, it’s the guard that gets worn down and cracked, not the teeth. Occasionally, special splints, and even joint surgery, may be required.
Fusion Dental doctors are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ problems. If you or somebody in your family is suffering from any of these symptoms, please contact us today for help.