The Relationship Between Bruxism and TMJ Pain: A Vicious Circle
by Dr. Scott Bolding
One of the most common causes of TMJ disorders is something called bruxism. Bruxism is a common issue for a lot of people. And there is often a relationship between bruxism and TMJ disorders. The pressure caused by bruxism can wear down the jaw joint, leading to a TMJ disorder. And the stress caused by TMJ pain can also cause bruxism.
If you have a TMJ disorder it’s important to treat it before it gets worse. Getting the right treatment for TMJ pain, however, depends on the root cause. This is why it’s important to understand the relationship between bruxism and TMJ disorders.
What is a TMJ Disorder?
In order to understand how bruxism and TMJ pain are related, let’s take a minute to understand what a TMJ disorder is. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. And a TMJ disorder happens when there is damage or dysfunction in your jaw joint.
The symptoms of a TMJ disorder include:
- Jaw joint pain
- Ear pain
- Stiff jaw
- Clicking and popping when you open your mouth
There are several different causes of TMJ disorders. These range from an injury to misaligned teeth. Severe bruxism can also lead to issues in your jaw joint.
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What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is when you consistently clench or grind your teeth. A lot of the time you’re not aware that you’re doing this. And while bruxism tends to go away over time, it can lead to jaw joint damage if it persists. Bruxism is common in both kids and adults.
The symptoms of bruxism often overlap with those of TMJ disorders. It can cause jaw joint damage and pain. You may also notice pain around your ears like you do with a TMJ disorder.
Other signs of bruxism include:
- Teeth that are chipped or fractured
- Worn tooth enamel
- Tooth pain or sensitivity
Of course, many of these symptoms can be signs of other problems, so you should talk through everything with your dentist to figure out what the issue is.
There are two types of bruxism, awake bruxism and sleep bruxism. Awake bruxism happens during the day. Sleep bruxism happens while you sleep. Awake bruxism is usually caused by stress, anger, and anxiety. Stress is a common cause of sleep bruxism.
Most of the time bruxism will go away on its own, especially in kids. However, if it persists for a long time it can cause damage to your jaw and teeth. In this case, you will need to figure out how to treat bruxism. Treatments usually include managing the damage done to your teeth with mouth guards or splints. Medication is not usually effective, but sometimes your dentist might recommend muscle relaxants or Botox. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and drinking alcohol will also help reduce bruxism.
How Are Bruxism and TMJ Disorders Connected?
Bruxism and TMJ disorders often go hand in hand. Symptoms overlap between the two. TMJ disorders can cause and be caused by bruxism.
Bruxism Can Cause TMJ Disorders
The main cause of TMJ disorders is damage to the jaw joint. As we’ve mentioned, that damage can happen for a variety of reasons.
The continuous grinding and clenching put excess pressure on your teeth. Over time it can cause your teeth to shift out of their normal position. In turn, this misalignment will force your jaw to work harder in order to chew food. Eventually, this extra pressure causes damage to the joint. It’s similar to what would happen if you put too much pressure on your knees or hips.
TMJ Can Cause Bruxism
Bruxism can also be a symptom of a TMJ disorder. One of the common causes of bruxism is stress. And for many patients, the constant pain from a damaged jaw joint can cause them to grind and clench their teeth.
How to Treat Bruxism and TMJ Disorders
The connection between TMJ and bruxism can create a bit of a vicious circle if the TMJ disorder isn’t treated. The stress from the pain makes you clench your teeth. And the pressure you then put on your mouth, causes more damage to your jaw joint, which causes more pain.
That’s why it’s important to treat both TMJ issues and chronic bruxism. If you notice that your jaw is constantly sore or that your teeth are wearing down, you should talk to your dentist.
Treating a TMJ disorder will depend on your case. If your TMJ pain is mild resting the joint, OTC pain medication, and ice therapy should be all you need. In more severe cases, your dentist will likely recommend mouth guards, lifestyle changes, or even TMJ surgery.
If you can relieve the pain from your TMJ disorder you will reduce a lot of stress, which in turn reduces bruxism.
Talk to Us About Bruxism and TMJ Disorders
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the relationship between bruxism and TMJ disorders. Bruxism and TMJ disorders often go hand in hand. They can cause and be the cause of each other
Understanding this relationship can help you get the treatment you need. If bruxism is causing pain in your jaw joint we can focus our treatment plan around that. And once we can treat your TMJ pain we can reduce your bruxism.
If you’re still trying to get to the bottom of your TMJ pain, we’re here to help. Check out our TMJ Center to learn more about jaw joint pain and how to treat it.