It may be that when you wake up in the morning, your jaw feels stiff and painful. If your jaw feels painfully stiff every morning upon waking, with the symptoms going away on their own as the day goes by, it may be that your jaw problem is related to night time teeth grinding, which is known as bruxism.
What is bruxism?
Bruxism is the clenching of teeth so that the natural space present between the teeth when your mouth is at rest is eliminated, and the teeth grind against each other. As the natural amount of time for the teeth to be in contact over the span of a day is a little over fifteen minutes, it is abnormal for the teeth to be in repeated contact throughout the night. Bruxism causes the muscles related to the jaw to become tense and stiff, as they are being overused and stressed. The pain you feel in your jaw is actually from your tired jaw muscles. While some people clench their jaw when they are nervous or stressed, it is the involuntary night time jaw clenching that is the most harmful.
What is the cause of bruxism?
While the precise reason for bruxism has not been determined, there are some factors which have an effect on its occurrence. These factors are stress or anxiety, mental disorders, allergies, physical trauma, sleep disorders, smoking and consumption of alcohol and caffeine. These factors can increase the severity and frequency with which you grind your teeth, increasing the severity of the condition of your jaw.
What are the typical symptoms of bruxism?
One of the prominent symptoms of bruxism is a painful jaw accompanied by jaw stiffness. Other significant symptoms are excessively worn teeth, aching head and ears, dental sensitivity in response to warmth, cold and sweetness, loss of sleep and jaw joint disorders which are also known as temporomandibular joint disorders.
What is temporomandibular joint disorder?
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a condition where the normal internal setup of your jaw is disturbed, resulting in pain during jaw movement and disruption of jaw function. The cartilaginous disc which makes up the innermost part of the temporomandibular joint becomes negatively affected, so that the head of the jaw bone no longer stops at the point where it is supposed to when you open your mouth. This deranged movement of the jaw further stresses the joint and the jaw muscles, which results in pain and dysfunction.
What are the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder?
The typical symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder are jaw pain on both sides of the face, jaw swelling, pain during opening the mouth wide, inability to open the mouth from a closed position or close the mouth from an open position because of the jaw becoming stuck, a noisy joint in the form of clicking sounds when you open and close your mouth, and difficulty in chewing or pain during chewing.
How to manage jaw pain and temporomandibular joint disorder
While jaw clenching and teeth grinding may not necessarily develop into full blown temporomandibular joint disorder, you should not wait to see if it does. Both jaw pain and temporomandibular joint disorder can have a significant impact on your quality of life, not only due to the pain and discomfort itself but also because there can be a negative effect on your ability to eat properly. Therefore, you should be careful about regularly attending to your symptoms. Here are some things you can do in either case:
- Take pain medication to relieve the pain associated with the jaw.
- Apply cold externally to your jaw muscles to soothe the muscles and relieve pain and swelling.
- Make sure to take a soft diet and avoid hard foods, sticky foods and chewing gum.
- Try to keep your face and mouth relaxed. One thing you can do to ensure that you do not clench your teeth is to keep the tip of your tongue at the back of your upper teeth. This helps create a space between your teeth, recreating the natural space between your teeth that has been eliminated because of your teeth grinding.
- Use olive oil or a massage oil to massage the sides of your face, targeting the jaw muscles.
- Your dentist should demonstrate various jaw exercises which will help relieve the tension in your jaw muscles and thereby decrease your pain. These exercises should be tailored to your specific condition and how severe it is, so that you do not inadvertently stress your jaw joint further. Remember to carry out these exercises regularly and properly. It is important to do them regularly so that their beneficial effect builds over time. It is also important to do them properly, so you achieve the intended effect and do not cause any negative effect on your jaw. With this end result in mind, follow up with your dentist to make sure you are doing these exercises properly. This is only possible if you are regular about it.
- Wear a mouth guard at night to avoid teeth grinding.
- See your orthodontist to get an orthodontic appliance which will help reduce the stress on your jaw joint. It may also help reposition the jaw joint so that it is in a more natural and less stressful position.
- Your dentist may recommend jaw surgery if your condition is too severe for other methods of treatment.
A note to remember
As your condition requires timely diagnosis as well as intervention by your dentist as well as regular and proper management by your own self, it is important to be proactive about seeking treatment, following the advice of your dentist, and going for regular follow ups in order to see how you are improving with time. These conditions require time, attention and patience, so do not give up hope. Put in your part and see your dentist so they can do their part, and be regular about it, then you will get the relief you need in time.