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Jaw Joint Pain and Teeth Grinding

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder and Bruxism

Do you experience tension or discomfort in your jaw joints? Do your teeth ache, seemingly for no reason? Even earaches, tingling extremities, and neck pain can be attributed to TMJ disorder, or TMD. Bruxism, the condition of chronic teeth grinding, is also related to TMJ disorder.

What Causes TMJ Disorder?

The joints that connect your mandible, lower jaw, to your skull, at the temporal bone, are called temporomandibular joints (TMJs). These two hinge joints allow the mandible to move up and down, and side to side. They facilitate eating, speaking, yawning, and just about everything we do with our mouths. A complex system of nerves and muscles surround the TMJs, and a small disk cushions the bones that make up the joint. Proper occlusion, meaning a symbiotic relationship between top and bottom teeth when the mouth is closed, helps the jaw joints stay in proper position.

Stress, malocclusion, teeth grinding, and many other factors can disrupt positioning of the jaw joints. When the joints do not sit properly when at rest, associated muscles work overtime to hold the joints in position. Ultimately, the muscles become fatigued and spasm.
This initiates a destructive chain reaction involving teeth grinding and resulting dental damage, as well as nerve and muscle-related pain in the face, head, neck, and jaw.

How is Bruxism Related to TMD?

In some cases, people who do not have TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) suffer from bruxism. They habitually grind their teeth, often while sleeping. The friction between upper and lower teeth erodes tooth enamel and can cause small stress fractures, called “crazing”, in tooth enamel. Misshapen upper and lower teeth no longer fit together properly, so malocclusion occurs. The relaxed position of jaw joints is altered, thus contributing to the development of TMD.

This bruxism-TMD relationship can occur in the opposite direction, as well. A person with TMD may develop a habit of teeth grinding in response to overworked jaw muscles. In this scenario, TMD leads to bruxism. Either way, the cycle is destructive and related symptoms intensify over time.

What Treatment is Suggested for TMD and Bruxism?

Dr. Murray-Curtis must first diagnose the cause of your TMD or bruxism before he can prescribe treatment. If your teeth have worn down and occlusion is off, you may need crowns on back teeth to rebuild your bite and re-establish the ideal resting position for your jaw joints. The dentist will recommend that you stop all oral habits, like nail biting and gum chewing, which may exacerbate symptoms. In most cases. Dr. Murray-Curtis fabricates an oral splint that repositions the jaw and keeps upper and lower teeth from touching.

  1. A TMJ splint addresses multiple issues:

  2. It eliminates the ability to grind teeth.
  3. Because teeth cannot grind, the splint protects teeth and dental work from further damage.
  4. It repositions the jaw joints, which can allow muscle memory to reset, in some patients. If this occurs, the splint may not need to be worn indefinitely.
  5. It allows jaw muscles to rest and recuperate, so they’re less likely to spasm and cause teeth grinding.

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