Jaw Pain, TMD and Bruxism: the Connection and Cure

Sweet dreams don’t occur for those of us whose partners are clenching and grinding their teeth. Most people are unaware of nightly clenching that unconsciously occurs during their sleep, until a loving partner awakens in the middle of the night by the annoying sounds of grating and grinding.  “I’d rather hear snoring,” remarked one frustrated partner, “Tom’s teeth grinding sounds something akin to glass breaking and gravel crunching!”

“We live in a time where many of us are under enormous amounts of stress and pressures.  For certain patients this tension is released in the unconscious state of sleep by clenching and grinding our teeth,” says noted prosthodontist, Dr. David Zelby, founder of Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta.  But, there are other causes he explains, most notably, “poor alignment of your teeth or abnormal bite.”

While some “clinchers and grinders,” never experience pain, most bruxism sufferers show the “tell, tell” symptoms; tooth sensitivity (caused by eroded tooth enamel), facial and jaw pain, headaches, and of course, the eventual wearing down of teeth. “Bruxism that is not brought under control can lead to severe wear and abrasion on the enamel causing fracture of the teeth leading to loss.  In more severe cases I have seen loss of facial structure as the teeth erode after years of continual pressure and  friction.  There have been cases where full mouth reconstruction was needed due to postponement of corrective treatment.” says Dr. Zelby. Usually, continued jaw pain and headaches are the symptoms that bring patients to their doctor.

Once the enamel has worn away the teeth are susceptible to rapid decay, gum disease as well as unsightly fractures.  The condition, left untreated can develop into a whole array of health problems including TMD,  (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) a condition caused by the continual pressure placed on the muscles, tissues and other structures around your jaw.   Without treatment the damage caused by the continual pressure on your jaw muscles and the surfaces of your teeth become more complicated and expensive to treat.

Using todays’ advanced restorative treatment options, smiles can be returned to optimal appearance and health.  Dental implants, porcelain crowns, bridges, composite bondings and dental veneers are a few of the treatments your dentist may suggest.  It is far easier for people to recognize the symptoms of TMD and seek treatment with a qualified professional as soon as possible.  Believing that communication is a key in correct diagnosis, Dr. David Zelby, routinely asks his patients, “how does your jaw feel when you wake up in the morning?”  During an oral examination your dentist should look for the physical signs of grinding on your teeth such as, excessive wearing or chips.  “I have helped many patients find relief from their  symptoms, preventing not only pain but, the destruction and erosion of their teeth,” remarks the doctor.

The course of treatment at Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta includes custom designed mouth guards or appliances (splints) for patients with diagnosed TMD.  “The goal is to reduce the pressure caused by clenching as much as possible”, says Dr. Zelby. “There are several different types of splints I consider depending on the alignment of the teeth,” he explains.  The idea is to keep your jaw in a more relaxed position with space allowed between the anterior molars. After wearing the custom mouth appliances at night for a few weeks most patients have positive results and are pain free.

A few weeks of wearing his mouth appliance Tom, an attorney practicing in Atlanta is pain free.  He remarks how he  begins each day differently.  “I never realize how my jaw clenching and grinding interrupted my sleep.  I now wake up feeling rested and no longer feel soreness, no headaches and I’m pain free. I feel great and my wife is sleeping peacefully at night!”

Dr. David Zelby is a prosthodontist in Atlanta, Georgia. As a specialist in dentistry and founder of Aesthetic and Implant Dentistry of Atlanta, he focuses on comprehensive general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, fixed and removable partials, dentures and TMJ therapy. Dr. Zelby is a former professor of dentistry at Emory University School Of Dentistry and a clinical professor of dentistry at Georgia Health Sciences University College of Dental Medicine. A practicing dentist in Atlanta, Dr. Zelby has brought smiles to thousands of Atlantans for over thirty years.