Do you suffer from excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching? These conditions, known as bruxism, and the sensation of jaw locking are common symptoms of TMJ disorder.
Is TMJ a Cause of Bruxism
TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint, which connects the lower jawbone (the mandible) to the skull. The TMJ works as a hinge allowing you to open and close your mouth, chew, talk and make facial expressions. When these common movements result in pain, you may be experiencing a TMJ disorder (called TMJ or TMD). However, TMJ disorders may manifest as a number of other symptoms
There are many causes for bruxism or jaw locking, including stress and anxiety, excessive gum chewing, sleeping on one side of the jaw, or overextension of the jaw such as in wide yawning or singing. Other conditions such as arthritis or misaligned jaw joints or teeth can contribute to the problem. Bruxism also can be a side effect of certain antidepressant medications.
Teeth grinding affects children as well as adults. Experts estimate than anywhere between 15 and 33 percent of children grind their teeth. Peak times for this behavior are when baby teeth come in and when they permanently emerge.
As in adults, causes of bruxism in children can be stress and anxiety or irregular contact between upper and lower teeth.
Untreated bruxism or jaw locking can worsen other TMJ symptoms, including headache, earache, joint and muscle pain and/or limited movement of the neck and head. In some cases, chronic grinding can lead to loosening, fracturing or loss of teeth. It can even change the appearance of your face.
Since teeth grinding usually occurs during sleep, it can lead to sleep issues, including sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous disorder in which sleep is disrupted by interruptions in breathing and shallow breaths.
What are treatment options for bruxism?
Home Remedies / Self-Care
According to The Bruxism Association, about 70 percent of bruxism cases are related to stress and anxiety. Non-invasive methods are the nest place to start, and they include the application or soothing moist heat to the jaw to relax the tension.
If anxiety is the underlying cause of the problem, stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, massage, stretching exercises (such as yoga) and even hypnosis and acupuncture may help alleviate symptoms.
Other self-care tips to help you stop teeth grinding include:
- Reduced consumption of alcohol and foods and drinks that contain caffeine
- Avoiding gum chewing and eating hard candy
- Not chewing on pencils, pens or other non-food objects
- Consciously relaxing your jaw and your facial muscles throughout the day
- Positioning the tip of your tongue between your teeth when you have the urge to clench your teeth, which helps train your jaw muscles to relax
- Holding a warm cloth against your cheek in front of the earlobe
- Avoiding large yawns or other large mouth movements
- Increased intake of water
Depending on the severity of your problem, your dentist may recommend a dental mouth guard or splint (also called occlusal splints).
A custom-made TMJ guard fits over your upper or lower teeth to order to prevent inadvertent tooth movement (or grinding) while sleeping. Another option is an NTI TSS (Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System), a small plastic device worn around the top front teeth only.
Another treatment option is a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD). Designed to hold the lower jaw and tongue forward making more space to breathe, a MAD is used to prevent snoring, but it can treat bruxism as well.
Studies are ongoing in terms of testing medications for bruxism and teeth grinding. Successful treatments occurred in small studies with the drugs Topiramate, Gabapentin and Hydroxyzine, but each of these drugs has potentially dangerous side effects. Additionally, these drugs treat the arousal of nerves, but they do not cure the underlying issues causing the problem in the first place.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), further and broader studies are needed on these and other medications to treat bruxism.
Contingent electrical stimulation (CES) is a relatively new therapy for bruxism. CES involves the application of low-level electrical stimulation on the jaw and facial muscles during an active bruxism episode. Initial results are promising, but much further study is needed, according to the NCBI.
Finding a TMJ Specialist
If you are experiencing jaw pain, headaches, disturbed sleep and/or teeth damage, it is time to see a dentist experienced in treating TMJ. Neuromuscular dentists with a special focus in TMJ dentistry can be found through the Leading Dentists website or with a search below. In an initial consultation, the dentist will inquire about your overall health, sleep habits and other factors that may help in the treatment of jaw clenching and jaw locking. Once a clear understanding of the causes is achieved, a treatment plan can be recommended to resolve the Bruxism symptoms should they be associated with a jaw disorder.
Ghanizadeh, A. (2013). Treatment of bruxism with hydroxyzine: preliminary data. European Review for medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 17, 839-841.
Mowla, A., Sabayan, B. (2010). Topiramate for bruxism: Report of 2 cases. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 30(3).
Madani, A.S., Abdollahian, E., Khiavi, H.A., Radvar, M., Foroughipur, M., Asadpour, H., Hasanzadeh, N. (2013). The efficacy of gabapentin versus stabilization splint in management of sleep bruxism. Journal of Prosthodontics, 22, 126-131.