Teeth Grinding & TMJ

The TMJ Connection

In this section, I’d like to further elaborate a bit more on the connection between teeth grinding and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

Let us first look at what temporomandibular joint disorder is.

Everyone has a temporomandibular joint but not everyone has a temporomandibular joint ‘disorder’. Confusingly enough, both the joint and disorder are commonly referred to using the same abbreviation of TMJ. To make things easier for this particular section, we will refer to the joint as TMJ and the disorder as TMD.

As shown by the arrows in the illustration above, our TMJ is the joint that connects the mandible to the temporal bone. This is a very complex set of joints and unlike other parts of our body say for example our finger, the TMJ is comprised of two smaller joints that allow our jaw to rotate and slide forwards/backwards.

The most common disorders associated with TMJ is the one that concerns the muscles surrounding the area or our jaw muscles and the other which affects the surrounding soft tissues. Early symptoms or mild cases of TMD include the dull clicking or popping of our TMJ joints caused by overusage of our muscles of mastication and the wear of the bone and cartilage. Teeth grinding (bruxism) is a direct cause of this disorder because of the intense pressure placed on the TMJ.

A Normal TMJ *

Example of a TMJ Disorder; in this case a ‘posterior disc displacement’ **

* & ** (Illustration Credit : Michaela Todd, American Academy of Orofacial Pain)

When we eat, the pressure on the teeth ranges from anywhere between 30 to 50 pounds per square inch depending on the type of food. Under normal circumstances, our TMJ is designed to handle this amount of pressure and if taken care of shouldn’t cause us any major problems within our lifetime. However, teeth grinding in sleep can increase the figure all the way up to 600 pounds per square inch of pressure. You could probably chew a block of wood into pulp!

The early stages of TMD or in other words the stages of teeth grinding (bruxism) can lead to chronic inflammation of the TMJ, anterior/posterior disc displacement, anterior/posterior disc dislocation and other complications if not addressed quickly. The more serious stages of TMJ may arise suddenly or progress over months to years with intermittent frequency and intensity.

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