If you suffer from regular morning headaches or jaw pain, chances are you may have heard the terms “bruxism” or “TMJ” from your doctor or dentist. But what do these terms mean? Are they the same thing or are they connected? While there are similarities between the two conditions, they are both very different conditions that can contribute to severe pain and other medical and dental complications. To better understand these conditions and how they can affect you, let’s take a closer look at each one, the symptoms they can cause, how they are similar, and how they are treated.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism, also known and teeth grinding, is a condition where a person grinds or clenches their teeth. Teeth grinding and clenching occurs both during the day and during sleep. While daytime grinders are often aware of their condition, many that grind their teeth at night have no clue until they begin to experience symptoms. Studies show that as many as 20 percent of adults grind or clench their teeth during the day while 8-16 percent grind their teeth at night.
What makes a person grind their teeth is not completely understood. However, one main cause many agree on is stress. Stress can contribute to both daytime and sleep bruxism. Other possible causes of teeth grinding include certain medications, dental misalignment, and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.
So, how do you know if you are grinding your teeth? In the case of sleep bruxism, you may not be aware of your nighttime grinding until symptoms occur. These symptoms can include:
- Teeth may appear flattened
- You may experience broken or chipped teeth, or can even loosen teeth
- Worn down tooth enamel, leading to increased dental cavities and damage
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Waking up to morning headaches
- Jaw pain or pain that radiates into your neck and shoulders
- Pain that feels like an earache, despite not being an issue with your ear
- Sores on your cheeks where your teeth damage the soft tissue
- Tongue ridges where you put pressure on your tongue during grinding
- Disruptions in sleep
What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ or TMD)?
TMJ disorders are conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint and the muscles that support the jaw. Your temporomandibular joint allows for the jaw movement required for chewing and talking. It connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the temporal bone (the side of the skull). It is one of the most complex joints in the body and is responsible for up and down, as well as side to side movement.
TMJ disorders include a group of various conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint, the muscles that contribute to jaw movement, and the nerves in the facial jaw area. Some conditions can include displaced discs in the jaw, a dislocated jaw, and inflammatory disorders, or arthritis, of the TMJ. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, TMJ affects 5 – 12 percent of adults.
Because TMJ encompasses many different conditions, the exact cause is often not clear. Some causes can include injury to the joint, cartilage damage from arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, and changes in the alignment of the joint. Some contributions to these causes include dental misalignment, inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue disorders, and even chronic bruxism.
Symptoms of TMJ can include:
- Tenderness and pain in the jaw
- Pain in the ears, similar to an earache
- Pain or difficulty chewing
- Joint popping
- Joint locking, making it difficult to open and close your mouth
What Do TMJ and Bruxism Have in Common?
Just a quick look at the list of symptoms for both bruxism and TMJ and you can see how both conditions are very similar. Both cause jaw and facial pain. So, how do you know if you have TMJ or are simply grinding your teeth at night? Luckily, bruxism causes signs and symptoms that are visible to your dentist. If you are experiencing painful symptoms in the jaw, a simple look at the surface of your teeth is often enough to show whether or not you are grinding your teeth.
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But here is the other problem. Chronic bruxism and the pressure that your teeth grinding puts on your jaw and joint can lead to TMJ disorders. So, if you have suffered from headaches and jaw pain for some time, there is a chance you could have TMJ issues as well as bruxism. In most cases, however, regular dental visits can help catch signs of bruxism early. Early treatment, with a mouthguard, is often enough to reduce the stress placed on the jaw, reducing your risk of developing TMJ disorders.
How are Bruxism and TMJ Treated?
Both nighttime teeth grinding and TMJ are treated with mouthguards. However, the mouthguards to treat these conditions are not the same. For TMJ, the mouthguard is often referred to as a TMJ splint. These guards are made of a rigid acrylic material and are designed to raise the bite and reposition the jaw. This change in the jaw position helps to relieve any discomfort and reduce symptoms.
In contrast, a mouth guard for teeth grinding is designed to help protect the teeth and provide a cushion, reducing the force that your grinding places on the jaw. These mouthguards can cover either the upper or lower teeth. Wearing a nightguard can help reduce the pain and discomfort you wake up with, while also protecting your teeth from any damage associated with grinding.
While you can get a custom-fit grinding guard from your dentist, these typically range from $300 to $1000. For many this can be expensive, leaving them to go unprotected. At SportingSmiles, we know how important a high-quality night guard is to protect your teeth from grinding, as well as reducing the risk of TMJ disorders. Because you use our patented self-impression mold to make your own mold, we are able to reduce the cost of a teeth-grinding guard to under $100. For more information, visit Teeth Grinding Guards today and let SportingSmiles help you say goodbye to headaches and dental damage.