Clenching And Grinding Is A Cause Of TMD Not A Symptom! Written By: Dr. Ankita Shah, feb 2021

TMJ and teeth grinding

Bruxism or clenching of teeth, also known as chronic teeth grinding, affects millions of people. We are so used to hearing that clenching and grinding is a common symptom of TMD. Bruxing in people of all ages can be linked to airway disturbances during sleep. The airway can become too narrow or blocked by mucus from allergies or by interference from the nose, jaw or tongue. Recent studies have proven that clenching and grinding is the body’s response to open up the airway as we transition from deep stages of sleep.

What Is Bruxism?

It is derived from the Greek word brychein. Bruxism means tooth grinding. The term was introduced to describe involuntary, excessive grinding, clenching or rubbing of the teeth during nonfunctional movements of the masticatory system. It refers to movements of the jaw that are beyond the normal functional activity of the teeth and jaws (e.g., speaking, chewing or swallowing)

Signs and Symptoms

Some people experience no symptoms whatsoever. Some experience:

Sore jaw muscles

Slow eating

Tension headaches


Stiff neck

Tooth sensitivity

Chipped teeth

Dull ache starting at the temples

Sounds loud enough to wake your partner at night

Irregular, interrupted disturbed sleep patterns

Take A Step Back

Now think, have you ever complained of the above mentioned signs or have you noticed these signs?

What Is Causing You To Clench Your Teeth?

There could be multiple factors affecting you. We need to rule out which one?

Local factors: occlusal interferences, high filling restorations or poor restorations, crowding of teeth, incorrect contact between upper and lower teeth.

Systemic factors: parasitic and digestive diseases like worms, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies like magnesium, allergies, endocrine disorders, mental retardation, cerebral palsy.

Psychological factors: Personality disorders like hyperactivity and increased stress and anxiety, argument or fighting(altercations) or problems at work or home

Habits such as fidgeting due to a high sympathetic drive

Tongue Tie

Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, snoring, sleep apnea, sleep disordered breathing

Deviated septum or nasal obstructions

Did you know sleep bruxism or teeth grinding during sleep can be a Red Flag for sleep, breathing and TMJ disturbances?

Believe it or not, bruxism can point us in the direction of diagnosing a rather serious disorder known as Tongue ties, TMD or Obstructive sleep apnea/ sleep disordered breathing which is highly prevalent in our population.

What Is The Link Between Clenching, Sleep Disordered Breathing and TMD?


Episodes of teeth grinding generally occur when you transition from a non-REM deep sleep stage to REM sleep stage. It is not a continuous activity but a periodic one that occurs for a few minutes when there is transition in the sleep stages.

Our airway should be nice and wide open while awake or sleeping. As we transition in the deep stages of sleep all muscles of the body relax and the tongue is also one of those muscles. When the tongue musculature relaxes, it positions low and the back of the tongue falls back into the airway . Our body is beautifully made and hence we start compensating. The fight and flight response is triggered as a protective mechanism in order to open up the airway. This results in an involuntary forward movement of the lower jaw to open the airway. This unstable bite increases muscle activity and leads to grinding of the teeth at night. This results in muscle dysfunction which in turn causes TMJ disorders.

How Can We Help?

Now that you have understood the link your obvious question is - What can be done? We need to assess all the factors that can lead to clenching and treat accordingly. If there are any underlying sleep disordered breathing disturbances , tongue ties or jaw disturbances these need to be addressed.

Once the airway focused dentist assesses he/she will take a holistic approach to treat the problem and help you establish a proper oral rest posture, correct muscle dysfunction of the tongue and face, restore nasal breathing and a good sleep with the help of Airway Orthodontics , Oral Myofunctional Therapy and Breath Retraining .

Happy Breathing!


Please feel free to ask us any questions. You can always contact us for questions or to schedule a consultation.

Keywords : teeth grinding, bruxism, clenching teeth, grinding teeth at night, sleep disorder, mouth breathing, Oral myofunctional Therapy, sleep dentistry, tongue ties, breath retraining, airway orthodontics, TMJ and grinding, TMJ and clenching, TMJ and sleep apnea

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