The Connection Between Teeth Grinding and a TMJ Disorder

The hinges on either side of your jaw that connect it to your skull are called the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). When your TMJs are painful, or they click or pop when you try to open or close your mouth, you have a temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMD.

You’ve devoted a great deal of time to breaking or avoiding bad habits that impair your health, such as smoking or leading a sedentary lifestyle. But the habit that’s often at the root of a TMJ disorder isn’t something that’s under your conscious control. It’s a habit called bruxism, and your body engages in it — without your knowledge — while you sleep.

If you have TMD, Dana J. Rockey, DMD, has a solution. As both a highly skilled dentist and a sleep specialist at South County Sleep Solutions in Newport Beach, California, he addresses the two main causes behind TMD: bruxism and sleep apnea. 

How teeth grinding affects your jaw

You probably never consciously grind your teeth. And, even if you clench your jaw from time to time due to anger or stress, you likely don’t keep it clenched for hours at a time. 

But while you sleep, you could be grinding your teeth all night long. As you might expect, that kind of pressure and activity takes its toll on your TMD. Symptoms of a TMD disorder usually occur when you chew, yawn, or open or close your mouth, such as: 

Your TMD might also be caused by other conditions, such as an injury or arthritis. However, even in those cases your TMD could be exacerbated by nighttime bruxism.

How breathing affects teeth grinding

The connection between teeth grinding and jaw pain may seem fairly intuitive. But how does breathing affect teeth grinding? That’s not as easy a connection to make.

If you engage in bruxism while you sleep, you may also have an underlying condition known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects how you breathe while you’re sleeping. To be more precise, it affects how you don’t breathe while you’re sleeping.

Apnea is a temporary pause in your breathing. If you have sleep apnea, you may stop breathing multiple -- even hundreds — of times a night. In severe cases, each pause can last for up to a minute at a time. That’s a long time to be breathless while you sleep.

Now comes the interesting part. If you have sleep apnea, each time you stop breathing, your body may signal your jaw to grind your teeth to remind you to take another breath. Since you could have hundreds of apneas a night that last for several seconds to a minute, that’s a lot of time you spend grinding your teeth. 

Treating sleep apnea may help TMD

Normally, you might feel a little overwhelmed knowing that your TMD isn’t only a jaw disorder. It’s also a teeth-related disorder and a sleep-related disorder.

However, Dr. Rockey treats TMD, bruxism, and sleep-disordered breathing at our office. For bruxism and sleep apnea, Dr. Rockey custom designs an oral appliance that keeps your airway open while you sleep and also prevents you from grinding your teeth.

He may recommend lifestyle changes, nutritional guidance, and supplements to relax your body and your jaw. If you’re in pain, he advises taking over-the-counter pain relievers until your sleep apnea, bruxism, and TMD resolve.

If you have TMD or suspect you may grind your teeth at night or have sleep apnea, contact us today for relief. Use our convenient online booking form or call our office at 949-642-4632.

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