Bruxism, TMJ and How Both Can Negatively Impact Your Health (and Teeth)

Missy was tired of having a headache at the end of every workday. She thought the headaches were caused by working on a computer eight hours a day. Then Missy went to the dentist and learned that she was wearing down the enamel on her teeth. Her dentist asked if she was having headaches and if she clenched her jaw. She answered yes to both and unlocked a mystery she thought had nothing to do with her teeth. 

Have you ever focused on something so entirely that you found yourself tensing your jaw muscles? Have you ever been told that you grind your teeth when you sleep? Do you have frequent headaches with pain focused around your ears or temples? Do you have pain or tension in your neck or shoulders? What about clicking or popping in your jaw? 

If you’ve said yes to any of these, you may have a jaw disorder. 

Bruxism and TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) are different disorders that can cause similar symptoms. Both can negatively impact the proper functioning of the mouth and oral health. Stress and anxiety can often be a factor in both conditions, but a misalignment of the teeth can also cause them.

The Differences Between Bruxism and TMD

People who have bruxism grind their teeth or clench their jaw. Grinding most often happens at night. Both clenching and grinding can occur during the day, usually when stressed. Jaw pain is not always a symptom of bruxism, but it can cause or worsen TMD. Bruxism can lead to severe damage to the teeth and enamel, chronic pain, and even tooth loss.

Symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Sensitive teeth caused by enamel wear
  • Headaches or facial pain in the jaw and ears
  • Abnormal wearing of the teeth or chipped teeth

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is estimated to affect more than 10 million Americans. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone on each side of the head to the skull. The exact cause of a TMJ disorder is challenging to determine. It is usually caused by a combination of factors such as genetics, a misaligned bite, arthritis, or a jaw injury. 

Symptoms of TMD may include:

  • Locking or popping of the joint when opening the mouth
  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw
  • Aching pain in and around the ear
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty or painful chewing
  • Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
  • Waking up with headaches or pain around the jaw

Why do we get Bruxism or TMD?

There are several reasons we get bruxism and/or TMD. Stress, anxiety, and bite disharmony are a few common examples. There is mounting evidence that suggests many cases of bruxism are linked to airway issues, especially at night. When people cannot breathe correctly at night due to airway issues, bruxism can be a manifestation. Furthermore, bite disharmony can cause a range of symptoms including jaw pain, tooth grinding, muscle tension, headaches, and tooth sensitivity.  

Treatment for TMD and Bruxism

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, our dentists may recommend an appliance or splint. In some cases, the appliance may be a nightguard, which you will wear as you sleep to prevent injuries from the movement of your jaws. In other situations, you may need to wear a splint for a specified period. The splint is custom-designed to fit you and to meet your smile needs. 

Another treatment option is Botox. Botox can be injected into the masseter and temporalis muscles to relax and improve the tightness and pain associated with bruxism and TMD. 

To treat Missy’s bruxism, Dr. Michael Longlet fabricated a custom nightguard. Missy now wears it during the day when she notices that she is clenching her jaw. Her headaches have stopped, and her quality of life improved. 

If you are experiencing chronic symptoms that you believe to be associated with TMD or bruxism, schedule an appointment with our dentists today. During the appointment, we will identify the severity and cause of your symptoms and provide a treatment plan to help you feel better.