Teeth clenching and grinding are often blamed for craniofacial pain associated with TMJ disorders. It is important to understand and recognize the three main causes of our clenching and grinding:
- Sleep Apnea
- Spinal and/or Pelvic Misalignment
Stress, in and of itself, does not seem to cause TMJ disorders, although we must realize that stress comes in several forms and can exacerbate an existing subclinical TMJ pain condition. People commonly suffer from three “stressors” or forms of stress: emotional stress (anxiety), physical stress (chronic pain or trauma), and chemical stress (prescription and non-prescription drugs, hormone imbalance).
Sleep apnea causes a person to clench their teeth together during restless sleep in an effort to open their airway. Restless sleep leads to fatigue and a lowered ability to cope with life’s stressors. If we don’t sleep well, then we don’t heal well. In addition, the added wear and tear on our TMJs creates a situation with great potential for pain and inflammation.
Spinal and pelvic problems can lead to significant and ultimately debilitating orthopedic instability and stress. Daytime teeth clenching is often associated with a need to stabilize our core- our internal orthopedic stabilizer. Since the TMJs and teeth are involved with a hard endpoint or brace (clench), our teeth and TMJs can become a postural compensation for an orthopedic problem. For example, people with a “bad back” may clench their teeth during the day as a protective mechanism to help stabilize an unbalanced or unstable body posture. The resulting TMJ and muscle overuse and abuse manifests as headaches, toothaches, and neck pain. Continued trauma, aging, and wear and tear eventually catch up with us and reduce or deplete our body’s ability to compensate orthopedically. The accumulation of unbalanced loads we experience from gravity, stress, and daily living lead to inflammation which then leads to pain! Thus, if we can identify the cause of the inflammation, we can treat the pain.