#41 Bruxism and TMD: What We Know and What We Don’t Know

Bruxism is the technical name for clenching and grinding the teeth.  Apparently, this problem has been known for a long time and is appropriately referenced in the Bible, Mathew 8: 5-13.

I have often wondered how many millions of people suffered from the symptoms of TMD not knowing the relationship between inflammation within the TMJ, the symptoms that were ruining their lives due to bruxism.  The Bible verse referenced refers to being cast out into darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

Being cast out into a dark place would certainly create anxiety and stress in most people in biblical times. The relationship between stress, anxiety and bruxism was well known at least 2000 years ago.

Fast forward to “modern” times and we find ourselves not so concerned about darkness.  We have all sorts of conveniences and sources of illumination so darkness is not as high on the anxiety producing list.  However, the list of stressful situations in 21st Century America is legendary and growing.  I’m not going to get into the geo-political nature of this list, but is best encountered on any of the daily news services.

Twentieth Century man is a highly stressed individual.  That is certain.  I don’t think anyone would disagree.  On top of that, what is stressful to one person is often just looked upon as normal to another.  Sometimes, we create our own stressful situations.  A good example of this is public speaking.  Public speaking has been identified as one of the most stressful situations for the majority of people.  Yet some people enjoy speaking to large crowds.

For our purpose, the question is: “How does stress and anxiety create bruxism?”

Recently, there have been many scientific studies using MRI’s which show that people under stress and anxiety have physical changes in the brain in both the brain stem and the higher cortex.  We also know that people under stress don’t sleep as well as people not under stress. I’m sure you have experienced that yourself.

Having interviewed thousands of patients with TMD over the past 12 years I have witnessed the relationship between stress and bruxism constantly.

We know stress and anxiety is co-incident with bruxism in some people.  But not all people under stress brux.

We know people who brux create anatomical changes in the brain. But we don’t know which anatomical changes in the brain, if any, are responsible for the symptoms of TMD.

We do know that bruxism damages the interior components of the temporomandibular joint leading to chronic inflammation.

We do know that chronic inflammation is responsible for all the symptoms of TMD.

We don’t know the mechanism of how the emotion of anxiety converts to the pathophysiologic changes of the brain.  But we do know that your overall level of well-being has a huge impact on your general health and immune system.

Much has been learned about bruxism since biblical times.  How stress and anxiety convert into bruxism is not one of them.  On top of that, we do not even have a good definition for stress.  What stresses on person is enjoyable for another.

No one lives their life without a lot of stress.  And there is no controlling bruxism. We don’t understand the mechanism causing bruxism

But you can decrease the inflammation within the TMJ in order to decrease the symptoms of TMD.

If you would like to find out how, call us to schedule a consultation. We are here to help you.