Unbalanced Bite

As mentioned prior, an unbalanced bite is one of the most significant TMJ causes and detrimental factors to one’s TMJ-related suffering. But an unbalanced bite does not occur out of nowhere. Respiratory issues at a young age can pose TMJ risks later in life, but other variables could be contributing to the uneven way your bottom and top jaw meet. Aside from the natural erupting pain that wisdom teeth can have on the gums and cheeks, failing to remove them may impact your teeth and further contort your jaw into a disproportionate V-shape. Another significant cause of TMJ problems in teenagers and adults is poor orthodontics where the teeth are straightened with no attention paid to the position of the jaw and the comfort of the facial muscles.

Orthodontic Treatment/Teeth Extraction

As a teenager or even a young adult, you may have received braces or Invisalign to straighten your teeth. Time has passed, and your teeth are still straight, but recently you’ve been dealing with jaw pain, headaches, ear problems and clicking. There has been much research conducted showing that braces and post-orthodontic treatment can contribute to individuals developing TMJ-related problems. While the purpose of braces is to straighten teeth, little-to-no thought is given to the fact that orthodontic treatment can disturb the proper position of the jaw by compressing and then stressing the TMJ and surrounding muscles.

Injury/Trauma

We’ve all been there: roughhousing with a sibling or friend, then and all of sudden — boom! You get hit in the jaw. That sudden blunt force may or may not have resulted in a dislocated jaw, but if it did, there is a strong possibility that it is the main reason behind your tinnitus, headaches and neck and shoulder pain. Yes, you heard (or didn’t) right: Jaw dislocation or trauma to the mandibular area is yet another leading TMJ cause. Whether it‘s from a car accident, severe fall or a punch to the face, any intense physical impact to this area can damage your TMJ. But believe it or not, trauma to more indirect areas like the back or neck can also lead to TMJ disorder. It’s no secret that if your back goes out, it affects the neck. When the neck muscles are affected or traumatized, that can disturb the jaw muscles through the nerve signals that go to the brain. The nerves in the jaw and neck muscles influence and alter the function of the other, so any kind of trauma or stress to these areas may eventually result in TMJ-related tension and symptoms.

Stress and Anxiety

As physically painful as many TMJ causes may be, there are mental and neurological factors to take into account as well. Learning to control your stress and anxiety may help relieve your TMJ symptoms. When you are under psychological distress (however that may manifest itself) the muscles in your face stress and tighten as you unknowingly grimace. Among these tightened muscles are those surrounding the TMJ. Anxiety and stress may also cause one to grind or clench their teeth, both while wide awake and during sleep. Grinding not only damages the teeth, but it also induces improper dental occlusion, which causes the jaw to misalign from its natural position, and thus the TMJ is disrupted and strained.

Respiratory Issues

The effects of childhood asthma, allergies and other respiratory issues encompass far more than just the difficulty of breathing — it is a leading TMJ cause. You may be wondering how does having asthma as a child give you lockjaw 20 years down the line? The tongue, which naturally pushed outward to balance the inward force created by the lips and cheeks, acts as a cushion between the top and bottom teeth. If a child can breathe normally through the nose, the tongue will sit comfortably behind the upper teeth. On the other hand, when a child cannot breathe properly through the nose, the tongue drops down behind the bottom teeth to allow easier airflow, which results in mouth breathing. In this case, the tongue can no longer counterbalance the inward force of the lips and cheeks, which over time, changes the upper jaw’s shape from a “U” to a disproportionate “V.” Just like how the triangular-shaped peg wouldn’t fit into the circular hole, a V-shaped jaw won’t properly rest on the U-shaped bottom jaw, causing the biggest determinant of TMJ: an uneven bite.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Just because it is located in the facial region doesn’t mean that the TMJ is not immune to the excruciating pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory and slowly progressive auto-immune disease that can result in cartilage and bone destruction of joints, including the Temporomandibular joint. Yes, the RA affecting the joints in your hands may be the same culprit behind the inability to open your mouth wide. Though the damaging disease rarely attacks the TMJ region in its initial stages, RA eventually creeps in over time and affects the TMJ in just over 50% of patients. Unfortunately, because the TMJ is one of the last joints RA will affect, dentists and oral surgeons alike have a difficult time diagnosing this exact TMJ cause.