What is TMJ and how does it relate to teeth grinding (bruxism)?

TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is a common condition that affects the joints that connect your jaw to the side of your head. TMJ can produce pain in the jaw, face, and neck, as well as headaches and other symptoms. Doctors are often unable to determine exactly why a person develops TMJ. However, teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, appears to increase the risk for developing TMJ.

TMJ is the abbreviation for temporomandibular joint and often is shorthand for a collection of disorders related to this joint and surrounding muscles on the jaw and face. Teeth grinding can aggravate this joint and lead to joint, muscle, and facial pain. Sometimes the result is developing one of the TMJ disorders.

Your lower jaw moves by a highly coordinated group of 30 muscles. If some of them get out of coordination, they can get sore and then it is just like walking on a sore foot. Your body will try to compensate, which can make things worse.
If you grind your teeth while the muscles are sore, it's like hopping up and down on that sore foot. Not only will you not get better, but your jaw might get a lot worse.

Ask you dentist about jaw pain, whether in the joint by your ear or in any of the muscles of your head and neck - even your shoulder muscles can be sore if you grind your teeth too much!
The temporomandibular joints, called TMJ, are the joints and jaw muscles that make it possible to open and close your mouth. Located on each side of the head, your TMJ work together when you chew, speak or swallow and include muscles and ligaments as well as the jaw bone. They also control the lower jaw (mandible) as it moves forward, backward and side to side.

TMJ can also refer to any disorder caused by a problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly. Possible causes of TMJ disorders include:
  • arthritis
  • dislocation
  • injury
  • tooth and jaw alignment
  • stress and teeth grinding (bruxism)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.