During sleep, we’re unaware of what is going on physically since, well, we’re asleep! We assume our bodies are relaxed and at rest, inside and out.
Although our muscles are at a state of rest and our internal systems are under less demand than when we’re awake, certain functions are actually operating at a busier pace than you may realize.
For example, people once believed that the brain was in a sleep state at night, resting and rejuvenating. Yet, modern science has found the brain is quite busy during sleep. Now known is that the brain uses this opportunity to sweep out toxins and reset certain functions so its operation is more efficient during wakefulness.
Bite misalignment can also lead to a number of night-time adjustments that many people have no awareness of. For example, when I notice a patient’s telltale signs of teeth grinding through worn or chipped teeth, many have no clue they are doing so.
Allow me to first explain the connection between the fit of your upper and lower teeth to the jaw joints.
The mouth is designed to have a balanced fit between how upper teeth and lower teeth ‘meet.’ When properly aligned, they work harmoniously in chewing, speaking and even at rest. When they fit together correctly, there is no stress or strain transferred to the jaw joints.
Like a table that wobbles has one leg just slightly shorter than the rest, just one or several teeth that move out of alignment can cause issues. Teeth that do not meet properly can ‘hit’ one another when chewing and may lead to chips, cracks and even tooth breaks.
Although the repercussions to teeth are usually obvious, what you may not see or even know is happening is how the jaw joints react to an imbalance in the mouth – and beyond.
During sleep, the jaw subconsciously searches for a harmonious position. As it moves around, grinding is often triggered. Clenching is also a common result of bite misalignment.
Because many people are not aware that they clench or grind their teeth at night, they may not realize a problem exists at all. As I mentioned prior, these actions can reveal themselves through teeth that are worn or fractured. As the jaw joints endure continued strain, the intensity of clenching and grinding becomes more so.
The force of clenching, for example, has been measured in some people to be hard enough to crack a walnut. Imagine the impact on your teeth, not to mention head, shoulder and neck muscles! It’s no wonder that people with bite problems wake up with headaches or sore jaw joints.
TMJ Disorder has been associated with a number of uncomfortable and even debilitating problems. These include frequent headaches, migraines, sore facial muscles or jaw joints, ear ringing, dizziness, tingling in the fingers, jaw popping and difficulty opening the mouth fully.
Here is where things get complicated. When a dentist checks your bite, he or she may do a visual assessment or even use a carbon slip to reveal areas of bite disparity. However, this isn’t always a thorough way to evaluate bite alignment. To me, that’s like asking a patient to cough to confirm whether or not they have pneumonia.
The TMJ is affected by the bite, yes. But the bite can be ‘off’ even though the teeth may appear to fit together properly. The bite relies on the unity of head muscles, teeth, jaw joints and occlusion, which is the position of the bite during various functions as well as at rest.
When everything works together properly, the potential for problems such as headaches or dizziness is eliminated. Yet, the entire structure must be assessed as a whole in order to show the true picture. A mere visual check of how upper teeth meet lower teeth while a patient with TMJ disorder symptoms is reclined in a dental chair isn’t a very clear indication of why the symptoms exist.
As a neuromuscular dentist, I have completed advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorders. Additionally, our office features some of the most advanced diagnostic equipment available in dentistry to truly pinpoint the source of TMJ problems, or rule it out as a cause of migraines or other problems.
If you suspect you clench or grind during sleep, don’t delay. Schedule a consultation appointment promptly to avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of TMJ disorder as well as the repercussions of broken, chipped or fractured teeth.
There is no charge for this consultation. Call 586-739-2155.