TMJ Disorder (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)

Do you wake up with headaches or neck or shoulder pain? Are your teeth sensitive? Are they starting to crack or look worn down?

You may suffer from TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) or bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching).

TMJ disorders affect millions and are much more commonly diagnosed in women. These disorders can be painful and, in some cases, may seriously affect your quality of life.

Often, TMJ disorders prevent patients from opening their mouths fully, making dental exams and oral hygiene difficult. Such severe symptoms put your oral health at risk.

Signs of TMJ disorders

While the signs of TMJ disorders can vary dramatically from person to person, some of them may include:

  • Clicking or popping in your jaw joints
  • Being unable to open or close your mouth fully
  • Your teeth not coming together completely
  • Pain in your jaw joints
  • Facial, neck, or shoulder pain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Grinding and clenching your teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Worn or shortened teeth

What causes TMJ disorders?

Jaw problems can sometimes be caused by an accident, trauma, or sports injury. It is also common for the disorder to have no definite cause.

The way your teeth come together (your occlusion) can play a role in TMJ and may cause dysfunction in your jaw joints. Because more women are diagnosed with TMJ disorders, scientists are considering a link between TMJ disorders and female hormones.

How are TMJ disorders treated?

TMJ treatment depends on the type and severity of your symptoms. Treatment can include splint therapy,  surgery, neuromuscular treatments, deprogrammers, or muscle relaxants.

Most cases of TMJ can be treated without surgery, which may be necessary in severe cases.

Teeth grinding

Teeth grinding, or bruxism as it’s officially known, is one of those tricky conditions you could be suffering from without even knowing it. An involuntary clenching, grinding, and gnashing of the teeth may not be immediately noticeable.

Most people aren’t aware they are grinding their teeth until their partners tell them or advanced symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches, and tooth wear and sensitivity start to emerge. Sometimes, even your partner may not be aware because they’re heavy sleepers!

Symptoms of teeth grinding

What makes diagnosing bruxism so challenging is that while you may have some symptoms when you first wake up, they can quickly disappear. Further, even if you grind your teeth during waking hours, symptoms won’t be noticeable until later in the day.

What should you look for?

  • Fractured, chipped, or loose teeth
  • A dull headache, sore jaws, and/or ear pain
  • Aching teeth and stiffness in the face and temples, particularly after waking up
  • Sore jaws when chewing, especially at breakfast time
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks
  • Intense jaw clenching
  • Big bony structures in jaw bone

Even if you’re not sure whether teeth grinding is responsible for the symptoms you’re experiencing, telling your dentist as soon as you suspect something’s wrong means they can examine and diagnose you and recommend appropriate treatment.

Problems caused by teeth grinding

Teeth grinding places a lot of pressure on your teeth, cracking their protective enamel, fracturing them, and breaking crowns and fillings while placing great stress on your jaw joints and muscles.

You might also find your teeth are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. It might also be more painful to bite down as the fibre that attaches them to the bone gets inflamed.

Causes and treatments

The likely causes of bruxism could be both physical and psychological, meaning treatment will often need to address both types of causes. Your dentist, of course, will take care of the possible physical causes, such as overly high fillings or missing or crooked teeth, and may fit you with a mouth guard if you grind your teeth at night.