Teeth Clenching & TMJ

Teeth clenching and TMJ often go hand in hand, with teeth clenching and grinding often being one of the main causes of the TMJ disorder– and with many treatments of TMJ concentrating on remedying the this problem.

Teeth clenching associated with TMJ, also known as bruxism, is defined as the patient deliberately or forcefully grinding the teeth as a result of stress, anger, or frustration; it may be deliberate or habitual, and may occur in the sleep as well. The primary muscle involved in teeth grinding is the masseter muscle, which is one of the strongest muscles in the body, and can have up to 150 pounds of force; this force is meant to be applied to food or whatever object is between the teeth, and not to the actual teeth itself, as this can be destructive and greatly alter the alignment and shape of the mouth.

Teeth clenching and grinding causing TMJ can be even more destructive if it is done habitually, unconsciously, or while someone is asleep than if it is done deliberately, or when the patient is consciously aware of it. Teeth grinding will wear down the tooth enamel and flatten the tooth, creating an uneven bite; it may also cause loose teeth, which will cause all teeth to possibly shift and alter the bite as well. As such, addressing and fixing the habitualness as well as stress which contribute to this problem (if applicable to the patient’s cause of TMJ) is crucial to the treatment of this disorder.

Although there are a number of cures and treatments for TMJ, the following are a number of specialized treatments aimed specifically at treating the teeth clenching and grinding that is causing the TMJ:

1. Biofeedback device: these devices are made specifically for teeth clenching and TMJ, and are worn at night as headbands around the head, and contain a complex system of biofeedback sensors which can sense when the person is grinding or clenching the teeth; when it senses the person is grinding the teeth it emits a gentle alarm which stops the teeth grinding process.

2. Massage of the masseter muscle: massaging the masseter muscle may help to relax the jaw and release the pressure. The spot to focus on during this exercise is conveniently located in a notch in the cheekbone, about one inch in front of your ears.

3. Specialized mouth guards: these are not purchased through drugstores but must be custom made by a dentist specializing in neuromuscular dentistry.

4. Special advice to the patient to pay close and careful attention when they eat, and specifically how they chew. A patient should be advised not to not eat hurriedly, during which a patient may inadvertently and unconsciously chew the food repeatedly and with great pressure, and also avoid eating in front of the tv/reading as this may lead to unconscious eating habits. The patient should also be advised not to eat hard foods that may require excessive chewing, not to chew any food excessively, and to not chew food to the point where the teeth grind together.

5. General stress and anger management techniques-these may include yoga, daily exercise, stress management classes, biofeedback and other relaxation techniques, and meditation.