- Dull, achiness in your teeth or tooth sensitivity
- Headache starting at the temples
- Pain or fullness in your ears, as if from an earache
- Soreness when you touch your jaw or face
- Damage to your teeth – worn enamel, cracks, or chips
Causes & Diagnoses
While stress is an important factor in both teeth grinding and TMJ disorders, their causes and diagnoses vary case by case. Generally, there are two types of teeth grinding: daytime teeth grinding and nighttime teeth grinding. Daytime teeth grinding typically occurs during periods of high stress or anxiety. This condition is fairly common and affects 15 to 20 percent of adults. Nighttime teeth grinding goes beyond limited periods of stress and is linked to issues like sleep apnea, hyperactivity, or acid reflux. According to the American Sleep Association, nighttime teeth grinding affects as many as one in 10 adults. Additionally, both daytime and nighttime teeth grinding are known side effects of some anti-depressant medications and can be related to tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, and drug use.
To diagnose daytime and nighttime teeth grinding, your doctor will examine your teeth to find signs of extreme wear. They will also ask you about pain, headaches, or other symptoms.
TMJ disorders are caused by numerous factors and underlying conditions, including long-term teeth grinding, arthritis, jaw injury, and certain connective tissue diseases. Other factors that may impact TMJ disorders include poor neck posture, poor diet, lack of sleep, and the use of orthodontic braces.
While TMJ disorders can be difficult to diagnose, your doctor will likely examine your jaw, check for swelling, and observe its range of motion. Additionally, the diagnosis might require dental x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to further investigate the cause of pain.
If your jaw pain doesn’t respond to non-invasive procedures, a doctor may use a TMJ arthroscopy to evaluate you and determine the next steps for treatment. This outpatient procedure involves inserting a small camera into the joint space to observe the area’s function and overall health.
Implications & TreatmentsTeeth grinding and TMJ disorders both lead to jaw, mouth, and teeth discomfort or sensitivity, but treatments vary depending on the severity of the case. Some cases require no treatment and go away on their own, while others require a combination of medications and therapies. While night guards can prevent damage to the teeth and mouth, they do not stop you from grinding. Therefore, it’s imperative to treat the underlying cause of the condition. This may include:
- Taking medications such as muscle relaxers
- Switching anti-depressant medications or receiving a prescription for them for the first time
- Developing behavioral strategies such as identifying potential triggers, stress management, relaxation training, and more