Nearly one in ten adults, and over one in ten children, experience nighttime bruxism – teeth grinding – according to the Canadian Sleep Society. This is a problem because bruxism is connected with many undesirable conditions, including TMJ. Let’s look at how and why.
First, how do you know if you grind your teeth? Many people grind their teeth but don’t even realize it, since it often happens during sleep. Some people find out that they grind their teeth when a bed partner tells them. Here are other things to look for:
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Loose teeth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Worn enamel
- Yellowing of teeth
- Sore jaw upon waking
- Unexplained headaches, especially in the morning
If you regularly experience these symptoms, you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep.
Bruxism: More Than Just a Bad Habit
Bruxism isn’t just an unpleasant bad habit, like chewing on your fingernails or eating with your mouth open. It’s a potentially damaging bad habit.
When the teeth grind together, the protective enamel can chip and wear away, leading to increased tooth sensitivity and a greater likelihood of tooth decay. It can be caused by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a disorder of the jaw joint, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ). TMJ disorder is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, including ringing in the ears, headaches and migraines, and pain in the shoulder, neck, and back.
The Jaw Joint
To understand exactly how bruxism and TMJ are related, it’s important to understand the anatomy of the jaw.
The jaw joint is a ball-and-socket joint, one on each side of the face that work in tandem. TMD can develop when there are problems inside what’s called the “joint capsule,” such as problems with the ligaments and bones. Or it can develop when there are problems outside the joint capsule, from the nearby nerves and muscles. The top and the bottom of the jaw must be in proper alignment to have a healthy bite.
When the jaw is misaligned, it can cause a bad bite. This leads to bruxism, as the surrounding muscles of the jaw are not happy and the body’s way of dealing with it is to literally grind away the teeth that are in the way.
Talk to Your Dentist
Grinding your teeth can be serious. If you suspect you grind your teeth at night, or you’ve been told by a bed partner that you do, speak with your dentist about it. Not everyone who grinds their teeth has TMD, but it’s best to be proactive and err on the side of caution.
When you speak with your dentist, you’ll discuss solutions that might work well for you. For bruxism that’s not related to TMJ disorder, stress management or night guards may help. For TMD-related bruxism, typically orthodontic treatment is needed to fix the bite and stop the grinding. Whatever the cause of your bruxism, seek treatment to help protect your teeth and jaw for better oral health.