Everybody’s been under a lot of stress lately, and at greater risk of developing a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). But some people, such as those with autoimmune disorders, were already at higher risk, and may especially be familiar with jaw pain. We at Southern Cross Dental in Colorado Springs don’t want any of our patients to suffer or to underestimate the damage jaw clenching can do to their teeth, so we wanted to discuss how it works and what we can do.
Our lower jaws are connected to the skull by the temporomandibular joints. These joints are complex, needing to be able to exert a great deal of force and move in all directions. In people with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, the lining of the joints may be swollen. This would create difficulty opening the mouth and may cause a person to clench their jaws or grind their teeth in their sleep, which is a habit called bruxism. However, other people may also develop TMD if they are under psychological strain or they have obstructive sleep apnea, in which case they would move their jaw forward in an attempt to widen their airway.
TMD may cause pain to radiate to the ear or down to the shoulder, and teeth can crack under extreme pressure. If the cartilage of the joints is worn away, it will be much more difficult and uncomfortable for them to function. But we can provide patients with custom-fitted night guards, which are a removable oral appliance similar to a retainer that is worn during sleep. Night guards keep the jaws separate, shield the teeth, and can help to keep the jaw in a position that will leave the airway unrestricted and the joints under less stress.