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  • Writer's pictureDr. Llewelyn A. Paras

The Difference Between Bruxism and TMJ

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

A woman suffering from tooth pain holds the left side of her face.

The Difference Between Bruxism and TMJ

Jaw pain is a common concern for many people, making them debate whether or not to visit the dentist. If you have consistent discomfort in the jaw and mouth, bruxism or issues with your TMJ (temporomandibular joint) may be the cause. Both these conditions can lead to jaw pain, so what’s the difference between them?

Continue reading to learn more about bruxism and issues with the TMJ, including the difference between these conditions.

What Is Bruxism?

Bruxism is commonly known as teeth grinding, the act of grinding, gnashing, or clenching your teeth. You may clench your teeth during the day or grind them at night. Either way, many people don’t even know they have this condition because it’s an unconscious action.

Your teeth grind together as they make a chewing motion, or you hold your teeth together and place pressure on them when clenching your jaw muscles. When you have bruxism, you may experience several symptoms, including:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching

  • Flattened, fractured, chipped, or loose teeth

  • Worn tooth enamel

  • Tooth pain or sensitivity

  • Tired or tight jaw muscles

  • A locked jaw that won’t open or close fully

  • Jaw, neck, or face discomfort

  • Dull headache in the temples

  • Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek

  • Disrupted sleep

Types of Bruxism

There are 2 forms of bruxism, awake and sleep.

Awake bruxism doesn’t typically cause teeth grinding but clenching instead. You’re likely to tense the muscles around your jaw, causing irritation and discomfort. It’s common for people to experience awake bruxism more frequently when stressed.

Sleep bruxism is hard to identify because you’re asleep, but your partner or family member may notice this condition. People tend to clench or grind their teeth subconsciously, causing gradual wear and tear.

What Causes Bruxism?

Experts don’t fully understand what causes bruxism, but they believe it may happen because of physical, psychological, and genetic factors.

Several aspects of your life can increase your risk of teeth grinding, including:

  • Stress

  • Age

  • Personality

  • Medication use

  • Family history

  • Other medical disorders

3D model showing ground down teeth from bruxism.

What Is TMD?

Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint you can find on either side of your head, connecting your jawbone to your skull. It can move forward, backward, and side to side, helping you chew, speak, swallow, and more. While this joint is essential for everyday life, complications can happen, called a TMD (temporomandibular disorder).

TMDs can vary in severity, from tenderness in the face to the inability to move your joint at all. TMDs refer to issues related to the bone, muscle, and tissue in and around your TMJ.

Symptoms of TMD

Different symptoms with a TMD are possible depending on the cause and severity of your condition. Some common signs to watch out for include:

  • Pain in the jaw & surrounding muscles

  • Pain in the neck or face

  • Stiffness in the jaw muscles

  • Limited movement of the jaw

  • Locking of the jaw

  • Clicking or popping sounds from the jaw area

  • Dental problems, such as worn-down teeth

  • Tinnitus

  • Vertigo

  • Headaches

  • Shifts in how the upper & lower teeth align

What Causes TMD?

TMDs can have several causes, including injury, disease, or other factors. The TMD may come from an issue with your jaw muscles or the TMJ. For many patients, the cause of their TMD isn’t fully obvious.

A TMD can happen because of:

  • The joint’s disc eroding or moving out of place

  • The cartilage in the joint being damaged by arthritis

  • The joint being damaged by a hit or other trauma

What’s the Difference Between Bruxism & TMD?

Simply put, the difference between bruxism and a TMD is that bruxism occurs due to someone clenching or grinding their teeth. A TMD happens because one or both TMJs work poorly, leading to discomfort.

Bruxism and TMDs may seem similar because they lead to jaw pain. However, they are different conditions. Bruxism can have an impact on a TMD, being a potential cause.

Grinding or clenching due to bruxism can lead to increased pressure on the TMJ, causing potential complications. Previous research found that the stress caused by bruxism, especially sustained clenching, can lead to a possible TMD.

It’s easy to mix up these 2 conditions because they have similar symptoms, including:

  • Locked jaw

  • Headache

  • Jaw pain

  • Tired, tight, or stiff jaw muscles

What to Do About Your Symptoms?

It doesn’t matter if you have bruxism or a TMD—you should never ignore jaw pain or discomfort. Your dentist can diagnose and help manage whatever problems they find during their examination. Another important aspect is to focus on lifestyle. Regular exercise can help with stress, as well as maintaining a relaxing environment, by doing things such as getting rid of unpleasant odours that may add stress to your home.

Headaches, sore muscles, and potential dental problems don’t have to be your future. Your dentist can help, whether they provide you with a night guard or another management strategy.

Contact our Edmonton dentist if you have symptoms of bruxism or a TMD—they can diagnose the problem affecting you and recommend a treatment plan.

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