man pointing to mouth while sitting in dentist chair

4 Common Causes of TMJ Disorders

If you’re dealing with constant jaw pain, stiffness, clicking sounds, or headaches, you could have a TMJ disorder. A TMJ disorder is a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) on either side of your jaw. TMJ disorders are a common condition, because there are so many factors that can cause disorders and lead to flare-ups. Because dental issues are often part of the problem, let’s take a closer look at what causes TMJ disorders so you can get to the root of your jaw pain. 

What Causes TMJ?

1: Teeth Grinding and Clenching

If you constantly wake up with jaw pain or headaches, you might be grinding your teeth in your sleep. You can also unconsciously grind or clench your teeth throughout the day. This condition, known as bruxism, is sometimes hereditary but it can also be caused by stress, anxiety, anger, and hyperactivity. 

Bruxism can put tremendous pressure on your jaw and wear down the muscle tissues, leading to a TMJ disorder. The pressure can also cause your teeth to break, so it’s important to speak with your dentist right away if you suspect you’re a teeth grinder. If they spot signs of bruxism, they may recommend wearing a night guard to protect your teeth while you sleep. 

2: Bite Misalignment

When the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly, it puts strain on your TMJ muscles. Many things can cause your bite to change, including grinding your teeth, gum disease, the effects of aging, failing to replace missing teeth, and neglecting to wear a retainer after a teeth straightening treatment. Being born with a jaw defect can also lead to TMJ problems later in life. 

Minor cases of a misaligned bite can typically be fixed with clear aligners like Invisalign that shift your bite over time. More severe cases of bite misalignment may require traditional metal braces. But if you are missing any teeth you might also need dental implants or a dental bridge to correct your bite.  

3: Arthritis

Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints, and it can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the temporomandibular joints as well. Although arthritis is more common in seniors, the condition can affect adults of any age. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. But your doctor can help you manage your symptoms with medication, therapy, or surgery.

4: Injury

Another common cause of TMJ disorders is an injury to the jaw or head that damages the jaw joints. Severe injuries from sports and accidents are more obvious causes, but even minor injuries caused by repetitive use (like constantly chewing gum or grinding teeth) can lead to TMJ issues. 

What Causes a TMJ Flare-Up?

Once a TMJ disorder has developed, many factors can cause flare-ups that last days or weeks. Causes of TMJ flare-ups include: 

  • Stress that leads to teeth grinding
  • Hard or chewy foods that strain your jaw
  • Dehydration (hydration is necessary for proper joint lubrication)
  • Poor posture, which can cause your lower jaw to protrude and place stress on your jaw muscles
  • Hormonal fluctuations (high estrogen has been associated with TMJ pain)
  • Vitamin D deficiency, which can affect your joints

Diagnosing TMJ Disorders in Gilbert, Arizona

A professional diagnosis is the first step in treating your TMJ disorder. At Lifetime Family Dental, we can help you determine if your jaw pain is from a TMJ disorder, a dental issue, or something else. If you’re experiencing TMJ pain, call us at 480-409-5863 to schedule an appointment today. 

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/13/2023). Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels