Fall Creek Dental

TMJ - Teeth Grinding

TMJ is the abbreviation of the term Temporomandibular Joint Disorder which describes a problem with the hinging joints of the jaw and the associated muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and other tissues. The resulting pain is commonly referred to as TMJ. TMJ is most commonly associated with a poorly aligned “bite” and/or a condition known as bruxism.

TMJ rarely results in severe problems for children. However, in adults it is associated almost every dental problem not related to sugar or bacteria.


Bruxism refers to the grinding or clenching of teeth. It usually occurs during sleep. People who suffer from Bruxism are called “bruxers”. Bruxers may also bite their fingernails, pencils, or chew the inside of their cheek. Because bruxism most often occurs during sleep, bruxers are often not aware of the problem until signs occur.

Signs of bruxism may include a flat appearance of the tips of the teeth, rubbed off tooth enamel, popping or clicking of the jaw or indentations on the tongue. A person with bruxism may wake up with tired or sore jaw muscles and headaches, and the teeth may become more sensitive.

Bruxism is sometimes caused by stress. If your dental bite or teeth are misaligned, this can also be a factor.

TMJ and Bruxism long-term problems

Bruxism and TMJ can result in abnormal wear patterns of the teeth. If bruxism goes untreated, more serious injury can occur with the loss of tooth enamel, recessed gums, or damage to the jaw alignment and the actual joint itself.

Typically done while sleeping, grinding can cause fractures in teeth, chipped or broken fillings, severe wear or shortening of the teeth, and TMJ pain TMJ is the leading cause of tooth enamel damage and a significant cause of tooth loss and gum recession. People with TMJ may also grind their back teeth, which will wear down the cusps of the occlusal surface. TMJ can be loud enough to wake a sleeping partner. Some individuals will clench the jaw without significant lateral movements. Teeth hollowed by previous decay or dental drilling, may collapse, as the cyclic pressure exerted by TMJ is extremely taxing on the tooth structure.

TMJ symptoms patients may present include:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress or Tension
  • Depression
  • Earache
  • Eating Disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Jaw Pain

Eventually, TMJ shortens and blunts the teeth being ground, and may lead to muscle pain and headaches. In severe, chronic cases, it can lead to arthritis of the temporomandibular joints. The jaw clenching that often accompanies TMJ can be an unconscious neuromuscular daytime activity, which should be treated as well.

TMJ therapy

Depending on the amount of wear and fracturing, treatment for grinding can be as little as the fabrication of a nighttime prevention appliance, such as a full coverage night-guard, to reconstructive dentistry including crowns and bridges to restore the mouth to proper form and function.

Dr. Pilgrim will take the time with you to determine what course of action is best for your situation.

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