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What to Do if You Suspect TMJ or Bruxism

So your dentist has told you that you grind your teeth at night. Or, perhaps, you’ve been clenching your jaw and feeling pain. You may be wondering what you can do about this pain.

You’re in luck. There are treatments for teeth grinding and jaw pain. Your dentist may recommend one of the following treatments for relief.

Here’s what you need to know about your TMJ and bruxism treatment options, plus what causes grinding.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction. TMJ disorders all relate to one area of the body: your jaw and lower face. But the discomfort can extend to the entire face, neck, and head.

The temporomandibular joint connects your jawbone to your skull and allows the jaw to slide so you can chew and speak.

TMJ happens when the joint comes out of alignment or becomes inflamed. This affects the joint and the muscles around it, causing pain.

TMJ can result in:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Pain in or around the ears
  • Difficulty with chewing (or pain when chewing)
  • Headaches
  • Pain in other areas of the face
  • Locking or tightness in the joint

What Is Bruxism?

While bruxism can contribute to developing TMJ, they are not precisely the same.

Bruxism simply means you clench or grind your teeth. This can happen at night when you’re unaware of it. However, some bruxism sufferers also notice clenching and grinding during the day, especially under stress.

Bruxism puts stress on the teeth themselves, on your jaw, and the temporomandibular joint.

Bruxism can result in:

  • Disruption of sleep
  • Worn-down tooth enamel
  • Tooth Sensitivity
  • TMJ
  • Neck pain
  • Sore or stiff facial, jaw, and neck muscles
  • Feeling as if you have an earache (though the ear is not affected)
  • Headaches

What to Do if You Suspect TMJ or Bruxism

If you suspect these issues, the most important thing to do is make an appointment with your dentist.

Don’t wait. Putting off treatment could mean your issue will get worse. In the case of bruxism, tooth loss can result if the condition becomes extreme or lasts too long.

TMJ and Bruxism Treatment Options

While this may sound dire, there is hope for TMJ and bruxism sufferers. Some treatments are simple and comfortable. Your dentist can tell you how big a problem you have and what treatments you need.

Here are the most common treatments for TMJ and bruxism.

A Night Guard

A night guard is a semi-hard silicone device you wear while sleeping. The dentist takes an impression of your teeth and sends the impression to a laboratory. The technicians there create the splint based on the exact shape of your teeth.

A night guard forms a barrier that keeps the top and bottom teeth from grinding against one another. Because of its placement, it may also help keep you from clenching your jaw. This means less wear and tear on teeth. It can also result in less jaw pain because you clench less.

Occlusal Adjustment

“Occlusion” means an obstruction. A very high tooth surface, or areas that stick up, can cause discomfort. So can teeth that are misaligned along the jaw.

If your teeth are uneven, you may favour one side of your mouth. That puts excessive strain on that side. You can also cause damage to the teeth if you are biting harder on one area because the tooth is too high.

Occlusal adjustment means drilling or polishing the surfaces of the teeth so that they align better. Usually, this is painless. Your dentist will only attempt occlusal adjustment on teeth that are otherwise healthy.

Physical Relaxation Techniques

If your jaw or joint bothers you, you may not realize how much you’re clenching. If you have TMJ, you may be tensing up in reaction to (or anticipating) pain. This can make the problem worse.

Relaxation techniques can help to loosen up the area. They can also help put you in a frame of mind where you’re less tense. That can mean that you clench less often.

Mental Relaxation Techniques

Like the physical suggestions above, relaxing mentally can help reduce bruxism. Both bruxism and TMJ are believed to increase when you’re anxious. So relaxing your mind can help reverse that situation.

Yoga, meditation, a massage, or simply listening to relaxing music can all help.

Changing Your Diet

Small changes in the foods and drinks you consume can significantly affect your TMJ issues. In particular, stimulants such as caffeine can worsen TMJ and bruxism. Your dentist may ask you to cut down on caffeine.

You should also try not to smoke. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant. It can increase anxiety and may result in more clenching.

In addition to these changes, a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help. That’s because a solid basis of good health affects the entire body.

There IS Help

No matter how serious your TMJ or bruxism is, there’s help. Finding a great dentist who understands these issues is your most important step. With your dentist’s help, you can experience less pain and clenching — and a more comfortable, happy life.

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