TMJ, Clenching, and Grinding Skip to main content

TMJ, Clenching, and Grinding

If you often wake up with an aching jaw or face or experience pain and/or clicking noises while you chew, you might be experiencing temporomandibular joint  (TMJ) syndrome. TMJ symptoms range from headaches to facial tenderness, from neck and ear pain to a locked jaw. There are a wide range of causes, but here are some of the most frequent:

  • Bruxism, the unconscious habit of grinding or gritting the teeth. It can occur during one’s sleep or when stressed.
  • Stress or anxiety, which can cause people to clench their teeth.
  • Inflammatory disorders in the jaw joints.
  • Arthritis of the temporomandibular joint, which damages the joint’s cartilage.
  • A traumatic injury to the jaw, like getting hit with a ball in the neck or face or whiplash caused from a car accident.

Clenching and Grinding

As mentioned, one of the leading causes of TMJ syndrome is bruxism. Sleep bruxism can lead to a wide range of problems. In addition to obvious symptoms like tight facial muscles and jaw soreness, bruxism can flatten and fracture the teeth, wear down the enamel, and cause extreme tooth sensitivity.


What can you do if you are experiencing pain associated with TMJ and bruxism? Here are some treatment options:

  • Mouth guard – The first course of action should be to try using a mouth guard that will keep your bottom and top teeth separated and avoid further damage caused by grinding and clenching. If you clench during the day, a splint might be the best solution. Your dentist can create a custom guard or splint from your bite that will fit comfortably and stay in all night.
  • Fix the occlusion – In some cases, your dentist and oral surgeon might need to work together to fix your occlusion—the way your teeth fit together. If your teeth are not positioned in a way that allow top and bottom fit together, it’s very easy for muscles to tense and pain to occur. If you’re missing teeth, you might need crowns or dental implants to balance the biting surfaces.
  • Test for sleep apnea –Recent studies show that teeth grinding is a major indicator of obstructive sleep apnea, a common disorder where people experience pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while they sleep. Talk with your dentist about the symptoms of sleep apnea and how to go about getting screened for this condition.

Bergen Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery works with patients every day to make sure the teeth and surrounding joints and muscles are working properly. If you suffer from a painful jaw and home treatments have been unsuccessful in providing any relief, call us. We can talk through options and help you find the best solution.

Contact one of our three locations: Hackensack: 201.343.8297, Westwood: 201.664.5656, or Ridgewood: 201.444.4137.

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