Does grinding my teeth mean I have TMJ issues?

Does grinding my teeth mean I have TMJ issues?

To preface this post, the phrase, “Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) issues” can be quite broad. Medically speaking, we relate this common expression to the umbrella category of Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD). For so long, everyone has considered pain and dysfunction a TMJ issue, but we are moving more towards TMD now in clinical chatter and research.

This is because TMJ is just the joint, but pain and dysfunction in this area can be due to many reasons!

Here is the definition of TMD:

TMD is defined as a subgroup of craniofacial pain disorders that involve the temporo-mandibular joint, the masticatory muscle system, and associated muscles and soft tissues of the head, face and neck.

How does TMD relate to grinding?

Jaw clenching, which is holding the teeth together at high force is under the category of oral parafunction activities. Jaw clenching does not always lead to grinding of the teeth, but in many cases it does. In these cases, the onset of teeth grinding may not occur right away, but if clenching of the jaw persists over time without addressing why, then it most likely will lead to grinding of the teeth.

it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish with 100% certainty a cause-and-effect relationship between TMD and grinding of the teeth. Clinically speaking, we see a direct correlation between the two but our experience can be biased as the patients we see are seeking out our help for pain and disturbances with daily activities.

What does medical research say?

A research study by Chandwani et al 2011 found the following when examining the incidence of bruxism in patients suffering from temporomandibular disorders:

  • 69% of all subjects (both groups) who were “grinding their teeth” (bruxism) either had myo- fascial pain and/or TMJ articular disorder

This research shows over 2 out of 3 people who grind their teeth qualify as having TMJ issues, or collectively TMD. Based off of this, I would say YES, if you grind your teeth, you are more likely than not to have TMD.

Here is another interesting finding from this study:

  • 55% had cervical (neck) pain showing in over half of cases, patients had more than 1 diagnosis.

If you are grinding your teeth, we recommend you speak with your dentist. Your dental team can investigate the incidence of bruxism by examining the wear of teeth and/or restorations and chipped teeth. We also recommend consulting a physical therapy who specializes in TMD to address underlying joint and muscle dysfunction from both the jaw/face AND the cervical spine.

I treat the neck in 100% of my patients with TMD and find the patients who have not had proper neck treatment get better with my services versus just solely having treatment directed to the jaw. Physical therapy is often aimed at addressing forward head posture and cervical spine dysfunction, as well as show you exercises to the jaw and neck that can improve pain and function.