Stress has a profound impact on health, and teeth grinding, or TMJ disorders, are a perfect example. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have a problem, which is why understanding the typical TMJ symptoms and their impact on your teeth is a must!
Before we discuss symptoms, let’s focus on exactly what TMJ disorders are. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders are referred to as “TMJ.” It’s a series of conditions that cause pain in the jaw joint and the muscles that cause the jaw joint movement.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), “Some estimates suggest that over 10 million Americans are affected. The condition appears to be more common in women than men.”
If you have the occasional ache or pain from a TMJ disorder, it can be temporary. The pains may occur in cycles, but eventually they go away without any treatment.
However, if you are suffering from recurring pain, the types we noted in our previous post, then treatment may be in order.
What are TMJ Disorders and How Can They Affect You
As noted on the NIDCR website, the temporomandibular joint connects the lower jar to the bone at the side of the head. Place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, and you can feel the joints.
Muscles control the jaw’s position and movement, and generally the jaw can move smoothly up and down, allowing us to talk, chew food and yawn.
So why do problems occur?
Unfortunately, no one knows for sure. The pain may be caused by a trauma to the jaw, or arthritis. In many of the cases we’ve seen, people who clench or grind their teeth due to stress will experience TMJ disorders. But, as it’s noted on the Mayo Clinic’s website, “Many people habitually clench their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders.”
While the cause isn’t clear, the effect is. People can experience:
- Pain in the face, jaw or neck
- Jaw muscle stiffness
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
- Painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw
- A change in the way the teeth fit together
If you’re experiencing these symptoms from stress, it can have a snowballing effect. You have stress in life, and then you begin to have stress about the TMJ symptoms. By that point, you’ll want to relieve the pain, but you should see a dentist out of concern for your teeth.
Wearing Away the Tooth Enamel
Besides the pain and jaw stiffness, my biggest concern as a dentist is the impact it can have on your bite and the enamel on your teeth. A custom-fit mouthguard, worn at night, can help reduce the pain. It will also help protect the teeth’s enamel, which is a tooth’s main defense.
It also can help prevent the cartilage in the joints from wearing down. If left unchecked, that continual grinding can eventually require more drastic measures, such as surgery.
If you’re noticing the symptoms, consider keeping a log of how often they occur. Think about things that are occurring in your life, and see if the pain increases during times of stress. Also be sure to note where the pain is occurring – the jaw? The teeth? The neck?
Prevailing symptoms and pain will definitely necessitate a visit to the dentist. Treatment is available for TMJ symptoms. While we may not be able to cure its root cause, we can definitely prevent damage to the teeth and jaw cartilage that can result from incessant grinding.