Have you ever heard of something called temporomandibular joint disorder? If you haven’t, maybe you’re more familiar with the acronym of TMJ. In the dental community, TMJ can be interchanged with both the name of a joint (temporomandibular) and the disorder associated with that joint – typically, however, the acronym refers to the disorder.
In my dental practice in Wellington, FL, many patients come in complaining about teeth grinding, namely in their sleep. Teeth grinding can be a symptom of many things, including stress and anxiety, and it can be easier to recognize and control this tic when you’re conscious. When you sleep, however, this habit can cause immense damage. It’s likely that you’re doing it for long periods of time while you sleep, slowly but surely grinding down your teeth.
As mentioned above, there can be a lot of causes of TMJ. If you aren’t experiencing any stress, anxiety or outside factors you think might be causing your sudden bad habit, TMJ might actually be the cause.
What is TMJ?
First, understand what your temporomandibular joint is and where it’s located in your skull. This join is actually composed of two smaller joints that allow for a wide range of movement. Think about your knee joint. You can bend it back and forth, but can it go side to side or upwards naturally? The reason your jaw has a wide movement range is because of these two joints, working in tandem to allow movement in many directions.
When you have TMJ, the muscles surrounding your jaw and soft tissue aren’t functioning properly, placing a lot of pressure on your temporomandibular joint. Sometimes weaker muscles in this area become overused, causing popping and clicking when you chew or speak. Another symptom of TMJ is teeth grinding – otherwise medically known as bruxism – because of the great pressure the muscles place on your jaw. The causes of such a problem can be wide and varied.
Common symptoms experienced by those with TMJ can include a pain and tenderness in the jaw area, as well as difficulty chewing due to said pain or muscle soreness. Sometimes a person with TMJ can experience a locking of their jaw, making it difficult to speak and eat – it might even be hard to breathe in this state. TMJ can also be felt in other areas of the face, such as the temple and ear where your jaw bone is closely located.
More severe cases of TMJ can give patients pain in less localized areas. Rare reports of those suffering with TMJ feeling pain in their neck and head to exist. Headaches are one of the more common symptoms, but back and neck pain are not unheard of in severe cases.
Seeing a Prosthodontist
Teeth grinding and a locking jaw are serious problems if you want to stay healthy and lead a normal life. Bruxism is a problem that can erode your teeth and cause severe nerve pain, and other symptoms of TMJ can severely limit basic human functions.