Temporomandibular joint dysfunction affects a large percentage of the population, but few know why or that they even have it. The TMJ is located just in front of the tragus (protrusion in front of the ears) bilaterally. This is where the lower jaw (mandible) meets the temporal bone (side of skull). You’ll know if your TMJ is dysfunctional if you feel pain, clicking, popping in this area or limited mouth opening. Many people experience jaw slippage or lock jaw if symptoms become severe.
TMJ dysfunction is most commonly caused by bruxism (grinding your teeth while you sleep). The way that most people realize that they brux is when a housemate alerts them that they heard them making a grinding or clicking noise while they slept. Masseter and temporalis (jaw muscles) muscle soreness upon waking is another symptom of bruxing often times but not always accompanied by headaches.
The most common reason for teeth grinding is an incorrect bite. When teeth don’t occlude (come together while biting) correctly the body knows it and recognizes cusps (the bumps and points on the teeth) as interferences and attempts to grind everything flat, eliminating the interferences. When this is the reason for grinding, orthodontic treatment is the solution. The most important aspect of being treated by an orthodontist is bite correction. Straightening teeth is the easy part but medically and functionally, correct occlusion is far more important.
Another reason for grinding is stress, which we all have some level of. Most orthodontic consultations are free, I recommend this to be your first stop if you suffer from any of these symptoms. If an Orthodontist determines that your bite is correct you probably need to do something to reduce stress in your life such as more vacation time, meditation, yoga or even professional therapy. If grinding goes untreated TMJD will surely occur, most likely accompanied by headaches. If the cause is incorrect occlusion, mastication (food chewing) may become insufficient, causing a myriad of gastrointestinal problems (upset stomach) and decreased nutrient intake.
Dr. J Jason Thomas