TMJ and Bruxism

Although TMJ disorder and bruxism are often related, they’re not the same condition. Bruxism/teeth grinding can result from or be the cause of TMJ disorder, but bruxism also occurs separate from TMJ disorder. Only a dentist can determine the cause of teeth grinding and diagnose if it’s associated with TMJ disorder.

What is Bruxism and how do we treat it?

Bruxism (BRUCKS-is-um) is grinding, gnashing or clenching your teeth. With this condition, you may unconsciously clench your teeth throughout the day, or at night (known as sleep bruxism). It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of bruxism, but stress, anxiety or misalignment of the teeth are among the possible causes.

This condition can cause tooth pain from the pressure put on the periodontal ligaments of the teeth. Bruxism can lead to damage to the enamel and teeth and cause tooth loss. Strong grinders may fracture their teeth or cause wear patterns on the chewing surface of their teeth. Symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Chipped teeth
  • Abnormal teeth wear
  • Worn enamel
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Pain and/or tension in the ears and jaw

To protect your teeth, a dentist may recommend an occlusal guard. There are various forms of occlusal guards and our lab can make several custom variations based on your own dental needs. Other terms for an occlusal guard include bite guard or night guard.

Understanding TMJ Disorder

When the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is misaligned, dental professionals call this condition TMJ disorder. The TMJ is where the lower jaw meets the temporal bones of the skull, near the ear. Misalignment of the TMJ can result in several symptoms such as:

  • Clicking in jaw or ear
  • Discomfort in jaw, neck, upper back, ears
  • Persistent, sometimes severe headaches

TMJ misalignment can also make you grind your teeth inadvertently, mostly at night. For some patients, the habit of grinding their teeth leads to TMJ disorder as the joint get slowly pushed out of correct position. In such instances where teeth grinding occurs, bruxism is a symptom or root cause of TMJ. However, bruxism can also exist without TMJ disorder and be completely unrelated to TMJ disorder.

Treating TMJ Disorder

Dental devices similar to those used for bruxism can help treat TMJ disorder. Occlusal guards, otherwise known as night guard or bite guards, are custom molded to fit your mouth and you wear them at night to reduce the pressure on teeth and prevent damage from grinding or clenching.

When the TMJ disorder requires a stronger form of treatment, a dentist may recommend alterations to your bite using orthodontics, veneers or bonding to restore your teeth and shift the bite into correct alignment. When the bite is changed, it changes the alignment of the TMJ, which can reduce the stress on the joint and ease discomfort and other symptoms.