It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call sleep one of the most important functions of our body. When thinking evolutionarily, it would seem that sleep presents a major disadvantage to our species — if you live to 75, you spend an estimated 25 years sleeping. Yet even after hundreds of thousands of years, we do it anyway, which suggests that it provides us with major benefits.

Even though sleep is incredibly important, many of us just don’t get great rest. Some of us have insomnia, some of us snore, and a pretty large population suffers from what is known as sleep bruxism. In fact, a recent study reports that as many as one-third of the population is afflicted with sleep bruxism.

Sleep bruxism, also known as nocturnal bruxism, refers to the unconscious clenching and grinding of the teeth during sleep. It can quickly wear down your teeth, and put added pressure on your temporomandibular joint, causing or worsening TMJ.

Watch For Signs

Sleep bruxism has many of the same symptoms as TMJ. Have you ever woken up with a sore jaw ? Has your partner ever mentioned hearing you grind your teeth? All of these could be symptoms of night-time bruxism. The best way to determine whether you have bruxism, however, is to receive a check up by a dentist. Looking at the wear patterns of your teeth, a dentist can thoroughly examine you for bruxism. However, another sign could be a recent excess of stress.

Is Stress Ruining Your Sleep?

Stress, bruxism, and TMJ are all interrelated. Studies have shown that those who experience sleep bruxism are more predisposed to anxiety and frustration. 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. Worse, this carries over into your jaw and could worsen TMJ that is already present.

TMJ and Sleep Bruxism

Another possible cause of bruxism is TMJ, a disorder which affects the jaw joint that allows your mouth to move up and down, right and left. Because this joint is intimately connected to the skull, and misalignment could spread through the face, head, neck, and even to the back and hands. If left untreated, TMJ can even permanently damage your joint, misaligning your entire jaw, and putting your teeth at risk.

The symptoms which accompany TMJ, jaw pain, tension headaches, and tooth wear, can pair with bruxism and do irreversible damage.Other symptoms include ear pain, 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, see your dentist about the possibility of TMJ.

TMJ can be complicated to understand, and this page contains some technical information that may be easier to understand in person. Dr. Adam Hahn is an expert at explaining it in plain, straightforward language. To talk to him about TMJ, please call (803) 781-9090 or email Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today.