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TMJ Pain: Causes and Symptoms

February 21, 2021
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Posted By: Bryant Anderson, DMD

TMJ Pain: Causes and Symptoms

TMJ disorder has a number of causes, and it can lead to more symptoms than just jaw pain. We’ve all been under some extra stress this past year, between COVID, virtual school, the election, and on and on. Many of us are also holding abnormal jaw positions while wearing masks for long periods of time. In many cases, that extra jaw strain manifests in tooth grinding and clenching. While it may not cause problems for you right away, grinding can lead to TMJ pain as well as a host of other dental issues.

I Don’t Think I’m Grinding…

Many people do not realize they clench and grind their teeth. If your loved one tells you they can hear your teeth squeaking or tapping at night, that’s a pretty good indicator. But what other signs do we look for that indicate clenching or grinding?

One of the most obvious signs is TMJ pain. This may include sore or tender chewing muscles, especially the large closing muscles on both sides of the jaw. It also includes the fan of muscle that runs over the temples, as well as muscles that run across the base of the skull and down into the upper neck.

Waking up with a headache indicates you may be grinding at night. And if you find yourself with a stiff neck frequently, you might also be able to chalk that up to grinding and clenching.

Signs We Look for in Diagnosing TMJ Disorder

When most people think about TMJ disorder, they think about effects on the jaw. Clicking, popping, crunching, and locking are all indications that the joint capsule is starting to have trouble. But the effects of grinding can sometimes be less obvious at first.

As Dr. Anderson examines your teeth, he will also look at the soft tissues of your lips, cheeks, and tongue. These tissues can reveal a lot about your unconscious habits. For example, if the outer edge of your tongue looks wavy (referred to as a scalloped border), it is a strong sign of stress in your jaw joints.

Receding gums likewise point to clenching and grinding, as the constant pressure on the teeth can cause them to shift or flex slightly and push the top edge of the gums down, revealing part of your roots. Abfraction, which is a triangular notch at the neck of the tooth, also comes from grinding.

TMJ Disorder Can Hurt More Than Your Jaw

The pressure from clenching and grinding may cause pains other than in your jaw. Sensitive teeth can often be traced back to a grinding habit. Sometimes, these habits can cause serious tooth aches as well. The ligament that holds each tooth in the socket can become inflamed, or the nerve of the tooth itself may become damaged over time. These can leave you in a world of hurt if you don’t nip your grinding problem fast!

Apart from damage to your soft tissues and jaw joint, TMJ disorder can also lead to serious trouble for your teeth. All that extra strain on your teeth can cause them to crack and fracture. More than one root canal and crown has been the result of a long grinding habit. Not to mention teeth that break down so much that they need to be replaced with implants.

Fortunately, you are in excellent hands here at Anderson Family Dental. If you think you may be grinding or clenching, or if you have any unusual tooth or jaw pains, don’t hesitate to let your dental team know about it! We will create a plan for fast relief. Keep an eye on our blog for more information on prevention and treatment of TMJ disorder in future posts!

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