The short answer to this is yes, teeth grinding can lead to TMJ, but perhaps it’s best to explain exactly what TMJ is. It’s short for temporomandibular joint which is the joint that hinges the jaw together, however TMJ also stands for temporomandibular joint disorder which is a condition that can be caused by bruxism. Teeth grinding can lead to TMJ as it causes enormous pressure on this joint. There are many symptoms of TMJ which can appear as a result of bruxism which is because the continual contraction of the temporomandibular muscles can lead to them becoming inflamed and painful which affects the surrounding areas.
Classic signs of TMJ include:
- A clicking or popping sound when you open and close your mouth. While this is a normal sign of wear and tear on the joint it can also signal mild TMJ.
- Abnormal movement of the lower jaw when opening and closing the mouth. This is where the jaw moves slightly off centre when the mouth opens.
- Having restricted movement within the jaw so that you cannot open your mouth widely enough to yawn or eat comfortably.
- Having a lot of pain or tenderness around the temporomandibular joint, or feeling pain when the joint or surrounding area is pressed lightly. Sufferers of TMJ also feel pain during eating and speaking or whenever the muscles in this area are moved.
- Feeling pain in your ear, or having earache is a typical symptom.
- Headaches are a common occurrence with this disorder as the temporalis muscles are connected from the sides of the jaw to the sides of the head and are near the temples. When contracted these muscles compress against the skull producing headaches in the temples. The sub occipital muscles are also affected by teeth grinding and can become tight. These muscles are located towards the rear of the head and neck and can lead to tension headaches around the eyes.
- Feeling pain in the neck as the muscles of the jaw affect this area as well. This is because tight muscles in the jaw can pull the head off center which causes muscle fatigue in the neck area.
- Another side-effect of feeling pain from TMJ is the effect on posture.
If teeth grinding is the cause of TMJ then it’s even more essential to take steps to break the habit of bruxism. Anyone suffering from TMJ should really be seen by a dentist so that wear and tear on the temporomandibular joint can be assessed and the correct course of treatment can be prescribed. Treatment will almost certainly involve wearing an appliance that decreases muscle tension and prevents the top and bottom teeth from touching. This places the teeth into an open bite, forcing the muscles to relax. Wearing an appliance such as a mouth guard may prove enough to break the habit of bruxism, reducing the stress on the temporomandibular joint so that the inflammation can subside. However some people may need additional treatment in the form of stress reduction remedies such as exercise routines, changes to diet or biofeedback or learning relaxation techniques.