When jaw muscles and joints do not work properly, the muscles will often go into a spasm (cramp). This spasm can become part of a cycle that results in tissue damage, muscle pain or tenderness, increased spasm and progressive tooth wear.
While some cases of TMJ disorder may have clear-cut causes such as trauma, arthritis, or severe stress, most are due to a combination of factors. Bite alignment (the teeth) and jaw alignment (bone) can also be contributing factors. The components of the jaw joint can also become dislocated, leading to problems such as clicking, popping, or even getting “stuck”. The degree and frequency of these symptoms will vary among individuals.
Oral habits such as clenching or grinding the teeth (bruxism) may develop as a response to, stress, tooth alignment, jaw alignment, or as part of sleep disorder. You may not be aware of nighttime grinding, but you may catch yourself clenching the teeth during the day. These habits can exhaust the muscles and cause them to go into spasm. The spasm causes pain which in turn causes more spasm. In time, persistent muscle problems may affect the joints themselves, and a complex cycle of pain and improper function will be set up.
It is important to note that while many of the above factors are believed to cause TMJ disorders, the exact causes can vary and sometimes cannot be determined.