Our jaws have a surprising impact on our health and daily lives

The human body has quite a few surprising features — including the strength of our bite. You may have heard that we have very weak bites, and it’s true that we’ll never match the strength of animals like hyenas or sharks. When you consider our jaws among those of primates, though, both strength and efficiency are put into perspective. Our jaws need these qualities to help us eat the wide range of food in our diets, but if you clench or grind your teeth, these forces can also wreak havoc on your body.

This impact is possible because the human body is so interconnected — but it also means that addressing the cause of your pain can relieve a wide range of symptoms and transform your daily life! Treating your temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ disorder or TMD, can help you sleep easier, wake up pain-free, and enjoy your day free from symptoms. We’ve put together this guide to help you learn more about TMD, its relation to teeth grinding and teeth clenching, and how you can find relief for your symptoms.

TMJ disorder has a wide range of symptoms

TMD can cause pain or tenderness in your jaw, toothaches, painful chewing, aching jaw joints, clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw, and sore muscles in your face. It can sometimes cause your jaw to lock, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. Although TMD springs from an issue with the joints in your jaw, its surprisingly wide range of symptoms isn’t limited to that part of your body. The inflammation in your jaw often spreads to nearby parts of your body, such as your ears. As a result, TMD can also cause earaches, tinnitus, dizziness, loss of hearing, and migraines. The muscles near your jaw also try to compensate for its inability to carry its usual load, causing a chain reaction that can lead to tight or sore muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back. Thankfully, these symptoms are all usually reversible once your TMD has been treated — you should even regain any hearing you might have lost due to your TMD.

TMJ disorder can make it hard to get refreshing sleep

TMJ disorder can make it challenging to get a full, quality night of sleep. It’s hard to fall or stay asleep when you’re in pain, and people with TMD who clench or grind their teeth may wake up to the sound of their teeth grinding. But getting a healthy amount of quality sleep on a nightly basis is vital for your overall health. Your body uses your sleep cycle to carry out essential tasks like producing immune cells and clearing waste material from your brain cells. These tasks have a huge impact on your short- and long-term health, so when you don’t sleep enough, your mental and physical health suffers.

When you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, have trouble concentrating on tasks or remembering details, and have a slower response time. This can impact your performance at work and make tasks like driving or using heavy machinery dangerous. The effects of sleep deprivation go far beyond this, however, resulting in overall health issues like:

  • A weakened immune system, making it more likely you’ll get sick
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Higher risk of developing dementia

The good news is that treating your TMJ disorder can relieve your symptoms, allowing you to live pain-free and helping you to fall asleep easier—without getting woken up from clenching or grinding your teeth. This means you’ll be able to wake up feeling refreshed and energetic, ready to face the day with a newfound sense of optimism!

Bruxism doesn’t cause TMD, but it can trigger an existing issue

Bruxism is the official term for when you inadvertently clench or grind your teeth, and it can be a problem on multiple levels. It wears your teeth down over time and can lead to dental injuries like cracked or chipped teeth. While it’s not uncommon for people with TMJ disorder to have bruxism, the condition doesn’t necessarily directly cause TMD. Instead, the increased pressure on the jaw joint from clenching and grinding teeth can trigger or worsen existing TMJ issues. A misaligned bite is a good example of this, as it’s a common cause of TMJ disorder. Even if you experienced little or no pain from your misaligned bite before you started suffering from bruxism, the misalignment existed long before you started clenching or grinding your teeth. Your bruxism simply puts more stress on your jaw, causing your misaligned bite to become a problem.

Stress is another potential trigger of TMJ disorder

Stress is another potential trigger for TMJ disorder, in part because it can lead to bruxism. If you’re stressed, you may find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep or throughout the day without noticing it. Thankfully, there are many methods out there that you can try to help manage your stress. Breathing exercises, journaling, listening to music, making space in your schedule for down time, yoga, reducing your caffeine intake, and spending time outside in nature have all been shown to reduce stress levels. This gives you plenty of wiggle room to try different methods of stress relief so that you can find which methods help you the most.

Dentists can evaluate your oral health and treat TMD

If you’re suffering from TMJ disorder, the first step towards improving your oral and overall health and freeing yourself from TMD pain is to schedule an appointment with your dentist. They’ll be able to evaluate your oral health, including looking for signs of bruxism, and can begin to find the root cause of your TMD. Once they’ve identified the root cause, they can recommend treatment options that will get you back on the road to a strong, pain-free jaw.

The human body is so interconnected, each part designed to work with the rest of your body, that even an issue with your jaw can cause a surprisingly wide-ranging list of symptoms. The good news is that you don’t have to live with these symptoms forever — finding and treating the root cause can resolve them. If you’re ready to start the process, feel free to schedule an appointment with your dentist at any time.