Stress turns up the speed on the record player when we are the record pressed “off-center.”

Teeth clenching and grinding are often blamed for craniofacial pain associated with TMJ disorders and it is important to understand and recognize the three main causes of our clenching and grinding:

  • Stress
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Spinal and/or Pelvic Misalignment

Stress, in and of itself, does not seem to cause TMJ disorders though we must realize that stress comes in several forms and can exacerbate an existing sub clinical TMJ pain condition. Humans commonly suffer from three forms of stress or “stressors”. Emotional stress (anxiety), physical stress (chronic pain or trauma) and chemical stress (prescription and non-prescription drugs, hormone imbalance), are our three stressors which can make a bad situation dramatically worse.

Sleep apnea causes a person to clench their teeth together during restless sleep in an effort to flex the neck muscles and open their airway. Restless sleep leads to fatigue and a lowered ability to cope with life’s stressors. If we don’t sleep well, we don’t heal well. Plus, the added wear and tear on our TMJs creates an overused and under-healed orthopedic situation with great potential for inflammation and pain.

Spinal and pelvic problems can lead to significant, ultimately debilitating orthopedic instability and stress while we fight gravity 24 hours a day. Daytime teeth clenching can often be associated with a need to stabilize our “core”; our internal orthopedic stabilizer hard at work. Since the TMJs and teeth are involved with a hard endpoint or brace (a clench), our teeth and TMJs can become a postural compensation for an orthopedic problem other than the TMJs themselves. For example, people with a “bad back” may clench their teeth during the day as a protective mechanism to help stabilize an unbalanced or unstable body posture. The resulting TMJ and muscle overuse and abuse manifests clinically as headaches, tooth aches and neck aches. Continued trauma, aging and wear and tear eventually catch up with us and reduce or deplete our body’s ability to compensate orthopedically. The accumulation of unbalanced loads we experience from gravity, stress and daily living lead to inflammation and inflammation leads to pain! Thus, if we can identify the cause of the inflammation, we can treat the pain.