How to Keep Teeth Grinding From Turning Into TMJ

Almost everyone has clenched their teeth at some time in their lives. But, when teeth grinding is a nightly occurrence it can lead to complications in your oral health, including the development of TMJ.

At Smashing Smiles Orthodontics in Washington, D.C., Allena Willis Kennerly, DMD, not only helps patients get straighter teeth, but she’s also dedicated to helping them improve their overall oral health.

Our team created this guide to help you learn how to manage teeth grinding, so it doesn't cause TMJ and other disorders. Read on to learn more. 

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding, or bruxism is the grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth. If you grind your teeth, chances are you don’t know you’re doing it since it often happens in our sleep. 

Unless the person you share a room with tells you you’re grinding your teeth, it can be hard to know. Chronic headaches or earaches can indicate teeth grinding, as can a tight or sore face, neck, or upper or lower jaw. Long-term effects of teeth grinding include:

Nearly one in three people experience teeth grinding, and the effects can impact more than just your teeth. When you grind your teeth during sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or snoring.

What is TMJ?

You have a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) on both sides of your head, in front of your ears. Inside, there’s a disc of soft cartilage that provides cushioning between the bones of the joint so it can move smoothly, like a sliding hinge. 

TMJ disorders, commonly referred to as “TMJ,” cause discomfort and pain in the jaw and the muscles and tendons surrounding it. Possible causes of TMJ include injury, dislocation, arthritis, tooth and jaw alignment, and teeth grinding. 

Symptoms of TMJ include pain in the jaw area, pain around the ear, difficulty chewing, facial pain, locked jaw, and headaches. If left untreated, TMJ can impact your ability to chew, swallow, speak, control facial muscles, and breathe.

Are there ways to stop teeth grinding?

There are things you can do to stop grinding your teeth and keep it from turning into TMJ. Depending on your symptoms and the underlying causes, different remedies may produce better results. 

At Smashing Smile Orthodontics, Dr. Willis and the team will work with you to create a customized solution for ending your teeth grinding. We’ve also put together this list of ideas to help you stop grinding. 

1. Wear a custom mouthguard

One of the most common treatments for teeth grinding is wearing a mouthguard while you sleep. Dr. Willis and our team can create a mouthguard custom fit that’s more effective than a store-bought guard.

2. Try stress-reducing techniques

For many people, stress and anxiety can increase the incidence of teeth grinding. Reducing your stress level also benefits your overall health. Some examples of stress-reducing techniques include yoga, meditation, talk therapy/counseling, exercise, and eating a whole-foods diet.

3. Take medication or a muscle relaxant 

Dr. Willis will work with you to determine the underlying cause of your teeth grinding. If the tension in your jaw is the root of the problem, she may recommend medication to prevent clenching.

4. Exercise your jaw and tongue

As strange as it sounds, exercising your tongue and jaw muscles can help stop teeth grinding and prevent it from becoming TMJ. This is because they work to help keep the muscles in your face and jaw relaxed. They also promote correct jaw alignment. 

Try touching your tongue to your front teeth, and keep it there as you open your mouth wide. This strengthens muscles and helps keep your jaw relaxed. You can also gently massage your jaw to keep muscles loose.

Don’t ignore teeth grinding!

In addition to dealing with TMJ, damage from severe teeth grinding can mean extensive dental work, including crowns, implants, root canals, bridges, and dentures.

At Smashing Smiles Orthodontics, Dr. Willis is dedicated to your oral health and helping you preserve your smile. If you’re grinding your teeth, don’t wait to seek help. Visit us online to schedule an appointment today. 

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