Do you wake up tired with a sore jaw, sensitive teeth, headache, or even an earache? Does your partner mention hearing you grinding your teeth? Approximately one third of Americans suffer from bruxism (teeth grinding), and you may be one of them.

Bruxism, also known as nocturnal bruxism when it happens at night, refers to the unconscious clenching and grinding of the teeth. That tension and motion can wear down, chip, or crack teeth, stress the muscles in the head and face, and even damage your temporomandibular joint, the joint that allows the movement of the jaw.

Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of sleep bruxism, the next task is to find the cause. For many people, that cause is stress. But for some, it goes a little deeper.

young woman with glasses stressed out with a headache

Stress, Teeth Grinding, and TMJ

Studies have shown that those who experience sleep bruxism are more predisposed to anxiety, stress, fear, and frustration than those who do not. It’s common for people who have internalized a lot of stress to become physically tense, which is why so many people experience neck and back pain during times of high stress. This tension can also manifest in your jaw, leading to clenching and grinding the teeth involuntarily over the course of the night.

For people who are experiencing bruxism as a result of stress, the best treatment may simply be addressing the source of stress. After all, stress doesn’t just hurt your teeth — it can literally kill you. Stress can be related to work, family, relationships, or any number of other subjects. Treating it could be as simple as changing some habits or lifestyle decisions, or you may need to consult with a mental health professional to get to the bottom of it.

Careful of That Jaw

Your jaw can also suffer because of stress. TMJ, a disorder affecting the carefully balanced jaw joint that allows your jaw to move up, down, right, left, and even diagonally, has no single cause, and in some cases can begin with bruxism.

When your temporomandibular joint becomes misaligned due to excessive stress, the muscle tension can spread through the face, head, neck, and even to the back and hands. And the pain and discomfort aren’t even the worst symptoms of TMJ. If untreated, TMJ can result in further damage to the teeth and jaw, and may even someday require the surgical replacement of the entire joint.

The jaw pain, tension headaches, and tooth wear that accompany severe bruxism are also symptoms of TMJ. Other symptoms include ear pain (sometimes accompanied by vertigo or a persistent ringing), numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers, popping or clicking of the jaw, and even back and shoulder pain. If you experience some of these other symptoms, it may be a good idea to see your dentist about the possibility of TMJ.

Dr. Adam Hahn in Columbia, SC has experience helping people with all stages and types of TMJ. He can help you, too. Please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry today to schedule an appointment.