Jaw Clenching Can Cause TMJ Pain

Your Jaw Muscles Work the Hardest When You Chew

While most people take their jaws for granted, many people do not realize that the jaw muscles in the human jaw are the most powerful in the body. When working correctly, these muscles enable the lower jaw to move up and down and sideways to chew your food and talk.


There are four muscle groups that are involved in chewing and talking, and your tongue is one of them. When everything is properly aligned, the muscles work equally on both sides and the pressure is evenly dispersed on both sides of the jaw joint. It all works together smoothly and painlessly.


Jaw Problems

When there is a problem with the jaw muscles or the jaw joint, it can offset the bite. If your bite is offset – not coming together as they should – your jaw muscles can overcompensate. You will tend to do this unconsciously, but it can easily lead to temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD.

Most likely, problems with the jaw and bite will not be noticed right away, unless it is the result of an injury to the jaw. Sooner or later, though, a wide variety of problems can start up, including:


  • Pain in the jaw joints

  • Muscle spasms

  • Headaches

  • Earaches

  • Pain behind the eyes

  • Pain in the neck, face, and shoulders

  • Clicking or popping of the jaw joint

  • Locking of the joint

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Difficulty chewing

  • Dizziness.


Causes of TMD

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the most complex joint in your body. Like any other joint, it can develop problems. It can be damaged by an injury, become eroded, be damaged by arthritis, or moved out of the correct alignment. In some cases, the cause of TMD is unknown. Two other common causes include grinding or clenching your teeth over long periods of time. Infections and autoimmune diseases can also cause problems.


Watch Your Diet

When jaw pain starts to affect what you eat, it is important to ensure that you are getting balanced meals. Since you will tend to eat less, you will also be getting less nutrition. If you take pain medications, these can reduce the amount of saliva you produce, causing dry mouth.


Dry mouth is a problem because it means that there is going to be above normal amounts of bacteria and acid being produced in your mouth. This can lead to the development of cavities, gum disease, yeast infections, and teeth that will break easily. Proper nutrition is important to strengthen the enamel on your teeth and to help your mouth's immune system fight off infection. Staying hydrated is important for oral health.


Jaw Clenching

Jaw clenching is something that most people do when they are about to do something strenuous, or when they are under stress. It may be conscious or unconscious. Occasional jaw clenching is usually not a problem, but when you do it for hours on end, or during the night, it can create TMD.


The problem of jaw clenching may also be a symptom of sleep apnea because many people with sleep apnea will clench their jaws while asleep, or grind their teeth. A sleep apnea test may be needed, especially if snoring or waking up gasping for air in the night is also present. Clenching the teeth can lead to chipped or cracked teeth, and will also wear them down.


When to See the Dentist

It is not at all uncommon for people to have a popping or clicking sound when opening their mouth, so it is not necessary to see a dentist if this is the only problem. You should see the dentist when you cannot open or close your mouth all the way, or when there is persistent TMJ pain.

Treatment of TMD

Diagnosis of jaw pain or suspected TMD will require an oral exam, and possibly x-rays. A mold of the bite may also be taken to determine if there is a misalignment of the jaw, and it will also reveal the extent of misalignment.


Treatment of TMD will vary, depending on the cause. Learning to reduce stress is important, and the dentist may recommend some TMJ exercises. Teeth may also be adjusted to correct the bite, and some teeth – if they are missing – may need to be replaced. A dental guard may also help prevent teeth damage when a patient engages in teeth clenching or grinding their teeth. Surgical corrections may also be needed, and repairing or even replacing the TMJ in extreme cases.


If you have jaw pain or other symptoms of TMD and you are looking for TMJ pain relief, Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board Certified Periodontist, can help you. He provides complete TMJ treatment, and when necessary, TMJ surgery in his dental offices in the Carrollton, TX, and Grapevine, TX areas. For a consultation or dental checkup, you can contact his office today at (817) 756-8578.

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