What Is TMD / TMJ Disorder?
TMD, TMJ disorder, and bruxism all refer to movement disorders of the jaw. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, which can be confusing to medical professionals and patients alike.
The acronym ‘TMJ’ stands for the temporomandibular joint, a complex system of bone, muscle, cartilage, and nerves connecting your jaw to your skull. There are actually two temporomandibular joints — one on each side of the jaw — and these joints are responsible for controlling jaw movements that allow you to chew, swallow, and speak.
Temporomandibular disorder — also known as TMD — can happen when one or both of the temporomandibular joints becomes injured or inflamed, leading to various symptoms including popping of the jaw, nerve inflammation, headaches, lockjaw, and teeth grinding (which is also called bruxism).
This condition is also known as temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJD) but is more commonly referred to as TMD.
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism patients unconsciously grind or clench their teeth when awake (awake bruxism) or asleep (sleep bruxism). Bruxism while awake and sleep bruxism are considered two different movement disorders.
Awake bruxism is more common than sleep bruxism. Awake bruxism is actually related to many other common, mouth-related “bad habits,” such as nail-biting, chewing on a pencil or pen top, cheek biting, and jaw bracing.
Sleep bruxism is considered a sleep-related movement disorder, a category of movement disorders that includes Restless Leg Syndrome and REM Behavioral Disorder. But unlike other sleep-related movement disorders that tend to occur in older adults, sleep bruxism is more common in children, adolescents, and young adults.
It was long thought that sleep bruxism had the exact causes as awake bruxism — namely, stress, anxiety, and depression. While that belief is no longer widely accepted, stress and anxiety remain risk factors for developing sleep bruxism. Furthermore, sleep bruxism is believed to have a genetic component and to run in families.
TMJ / TMD / Bruxism Facts
- The prevalence of TMD is between 5%-12% of the general population and is more common among younger persons than older.
- TMD is considered to be a “very common” medical condition with more than 3 million cases in the US each year.
- Bruxism when awake is more common than sleep bruxism.
- Sleep bruxism is more common in people who sleep on their backs.
- Sleep bruxism is also more common in people with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and sleepwalking.
- Data about sleep bruxism in children are difficult to accurately obtain — studies have found that anywhere between 6% and 50% of children experience sleep bruxism. That number for adolescents is estimated to be 15%.
- Bruxism tends to become less common as people age.
- While there is a strong relationship between bruxism and TMD in patients, a causal link between the two has never been proven. For many patients, the two conditions co-exist.
What It’s Like to Live With TMD and/or Bruxism
Without treatment, people living with TMJ may experience increasing pain due to continued joint irritation. This pain can spread throughout the jaw, head, and neck, making it difficult to focus on daily tasks and likely robbing pain victims of a restful night’s sleep.
In addition to excruciating pain, people suffering from prolonged TMJ dysfunction may experience damage to their teeth, deterioration of their hearing, and even permanent lockjaw in the most severe cases. When this happens, patients cannot open or close their jaw, requiring emergency medical attention.
In addition to severe physical complications, leaving TMJ untreated can also cause psychological problems. Some people may become depressed or fall victim to an eating disorder due to pain.
How Are Bruxism and TMJ Disorder Related?
Strictly speaking, bruxism and TMJ disorder are not the same thing. Most patients with a TMJ disorder diagnosis also have bruxism symptoms, and it’s thought that bruxism may lead to TMJ disorder symptoms in some patients.
However, it’s unclear whether there’s a causal link between the two conditions. Suffice it to say that the relationship between TMJ disorder and bruxism is complex, and the two disorders often coexist.
What Causes TMD?
Doctors are still working to understand what causes TMD, and to date, there is no consensus in the medical community on the exact cause. However, several known risk factors may increase your chances of developing TMD. Some of these factors are physical in nature, including a previous jaw injury, misaligned teeth, or an inflammatory disease such as arthritis.
Stress is a common risk factor for TMD, often because stress often causes destructive habits such as jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding. Another common risk factor for TMD is poor posture. People with particularly poor posture whose head, neck, and body are not properly aligned can suffer from neck strain. Over time, this can cause stress to the muscles and ligaments around your jaw, influencing the possible development of TMJ disorder.
What Are TMD Symptoms?
Here are just a few of the most common symptoms associated with TMJ:
- Pain or stiffness in your jaw or neck
- Pain in one or both of your temporomandibular joints
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Pain in and around your ear
- Popping or clicking sounds in your jaw
- Lockjaw which makes it difficult to open or close your mouth
What Causes Bruxism?
The “bad habits” such as nail-biting common with awake bruxism are thought to be related to psychosocial factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Researchers used to believe that these same psychosexual factors likely caused sleep bruxism. However, this belief is no longer widely held.
In some people, sleep bruxism has a genetic component and can run in families. Other researchers believe it’s caused by changes in sleep patterns or episodes called “microarousals” during sleep. In these cases, the teeth grinding associated with sleep bruxism is typically preceded by increased brain and cardiovascular activity.
Many other factors have been associated with sleep bruxism, including caffeine and alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and certain medications. There is also some proof that an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters causes some cases of sleep bruxism.
What Are the Symptoms of Bruxism?
The teeth grinding associated with bruxism can cause many health problems, including:
- Significant damage to the teeth including chips, cracks, and tooth pain / sensitivity
- Erosion of the tooth enamel
- Damage to the inside of the cheek
- An increased likelihood of developing TMJ disorder
- Jaw dislocation or lockjaw
- Tense facial and jaw muscles
Our Approach to Treating TMJ Disorder and Bruxism
At Neurology Solutions, we’ve helped hundreds of people get relief from their TMJ disorder symptoms through the use of medical Botox® (botulinum toxin). Many people are familiar with Botox for cosmetic purposes, but it can also be used for several medical conditions, such as TMJ disorder and bruxism.
When injected into the affected area, Botox can relax the jaw muscle enough to reduce clenching and teeth grinding without affecting other actions such as talking and chewing. This quick and effective treatment has provided many of our patients with months of relief.
Schedule a Botox Treatment Evaluation for Your
TMD or Bruxism
Many of our TMD and bruxism patients have experienced tremendous relief of their symptoms from Botox treatment therapy. This quick treatment can provide months of relief from a painful jaw and headaches.
If you are currently suffering from TMD or bruxism symptoms and want to hear about some different treatment options, please use the form below to get in touch with us. One of our Neurology Solutions team members will get in touch with you to discuss your condition and will schedule an appointment if indicated.