Clenching and TMJ

TMJ is an abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint). The use of the term "TMJ" often refers to damage in this joint caused by injury, most commonly a stress injury. Symptoms of TMJ can include headache or earache as well as jaw pain, and in severe cases, locking of the joint. Below are some definitions describing terms related to TMJ.

Bruxism

The term for grinding or clenching teeth abnormally. This habit can cause a stress injury that may lead to joint damage and can cause damage to the teeth as they wear down.

Myofacial Pain

Describes facial muscle pain caused by clenching or grinding of teeth.

Clenching

Refers to closing the mouth too tightly - this habit leads to headaches, facial muscle discomfort, and damage to the jaw joint. It can also cause periodontal problems as it causes damage to the bone supporting the teeth.

Grinding

The habit of moving the upper and lower teeth back and forth against each other. This habit causes damage to teeth and may result in bite collapse as the teeth are worn down, which in turn can cause jaw joint damage. Grinding may occur with or without clenching.

Although accidental injury can cause TMJ, the most common cause is internalized stress. People develop this habit unconsciously; it usually occurs during sleep, but may also be noticed in daytime during periods of stress.

The main treatment for these problems is a bite guard, a plastic appliance that slips over the upper teeth to act as a shock absorber. It protects teeth from being worn down, and helps keep the jaw in proper position to prevent over closing. We usually prescribe one to be worn at night, but in some cases, it may need to be worn during the day.

In addition to a bite guard, it is usually recommended that a patient undergo some type of stress relief treatment to determine a more appropriate release of tension. Meditation, yoga, massage, or exercise can all help reduce bruxism. Therapy may be indicated in serious cases of anxiety or depression.

This condition may be difficult to treat once the joint has been damaged. A bite guard may not always be successful; referral to a specialist may be required in some cases.