Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction - Bruxism and Pain

Bruxism is when you clench (tightly hold your top and bottom teeth together) or grind (slide your teeth back and forth over each other) your teeth. In some cases, this can cause significant pain and dysfunction of the jaw joint. In addition, bruxism can result in excessive wear of the teeth.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

People can clench and grind without being aware of it during both the day and night, although sleep-related bruxism is often the bigger problem because it is harder to control.
The cause of bruxism is not completely agreed upon, but daily stress may be the trigger in many people. Some people clench their teeth and never feel symptoms.

Whether or not bruxism causes pain and other problems may be a complicated mix of factors: 

o How much stress you are under
o How long and tightly you clench and grind
o Whether your teeth are misaligned
o Your posture
o Your ability to relax
o Your diet
o Your sleeping habits


Clenching the teeth puts pressure on the muscles, tissues, and other structures around your jaw. The symptoms can cause temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ).
Grinding can wear down your teeth and can be noisy enough at night to bother sleeping partners or even wake others in the house..

Symptoms include:

o Anxiety, stress, and tension
o Depression
o Earache 
o Eating disorders
o Headache
o Hot, cold, or sweet sensitivity in the teeth
o Insomnia
o Sore or painful jaw

Signs and tests

An examination can rule out other disorders that may cause similar jaw pain or ear pain, including:

o Dental disorders
o Ear disorders such as ear infections
o Problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

You may have a history of significant stress and tension.

Ultimately, the goal is to reduce pain, prevent permanent damage to the teeth, and reduce clenching as much as possible.

To help relieve pain, there are many self-care steps you can take at home. 

TMJ Pain and Clenching Management Techniques

o Don’t test your range of movement.  That is, do not open your mouth really wide or move your jaw as far as you can to the left or right, this only aggravates the problem.

o Don’t eat foods which require excessive muscular force to break (eg hard lollies) or repetitive moderate force (eg chewy toffees).

o Do take a Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like Nurofen (2x 200mg tabs) or Paracetamol (2x 500mg tabs) if you are experiencing pain.  

o When experiencing pain hold a warm, moist cloth against the side which is hurting and eat a soft diet.

o Don’t rest your chin on surfaces for extended periods of time (eg lying face down on the floor watching tv), once again this places undue stress on your TMJ.

o Take note during the day of your clenching habit.  For example, every time you look at your watch, check to make sure that you’re not clenching your teeth together.

o Family and friends can also keep an eye out to let you know when they can see your jaw muscles contracting.

o Try to reduce stress in your life, there are many stress management techniques available (stress balls, aromatherapy, yoga etc…)

o There isn’t an instant cure for TMJ pain and clenching.  It requires careful management and review, as well as active coping strategies. 

Expectations (prognosis)

Bruxism is not a dangerous disorder. However, it can cause permanent damage to the teeth and uncomfortable jaw pain, headaches, or ear pain.

Night Splints  

To prevent damage to the teeth, appliances (splints) have been used since the 1930s to treat teeth grinding, clenching, and TMJ disorders. A splint may help protect the teeth from the pressure of clenching and may also help reduce clenching.

What is a night splint?

A night splint is worn to alleviate jaw and muscle pain caused by grinding and clenching.

Night splints are very comfortable and are similar in appearance to a sports mouth guard.  


How does a night splint work?

It provides a protective barrier between your tooth surfaces, and takes pressure of the TMJ.

Is wearing a night splint the right treatment for me?

If you suffer from
o Pain in your face or jaw
o Headaches
o Worn and damaged teeth
...then a night splint could benefit you.

Contact Us to arrange a TMJ consultation