Tara Kachroo

Jaw clenching, tooth grinding and bruxism

Jaw Pain


Jaw issues are more than just issues that affect the health of your teeth. If you grind your teeth, clench your jaw, have trouble opening your mouth, get lock-jaw, or feel popping or clicking when you move your jaw it should be taken seriously.  Dentists are tooth specialists and will focus on the health of the teeth primarily. Their assessments rarely go beyond this. But grinding- technically called bruxism- can lead to many other problems, or could be a sign of other problems that should be addressed.

  • leads to neck tension, headaches, and even ear ringing

  • can alter your airway

  • can cause problems swallowing

  • affects the quality of sleep and has been linked to sleep apnea

  • can cause cervical compression issues (and in some cases, jaw issues are caused by cervical compression)

  • can cause dysfunction in the mechanisms of swallowing

and importantly

  • causes wrinkles and 

  • impairs the enjoyment of kissing

The TMJ is a sensitive joint

So … why do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw?  My mentor Kathy Dooley explains it really well in her article Anatomy Angel: Why You Use Jaw for Motor Control The gist of this article is that the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is loaded with “the most amount of proprioception per surface area of any other moveable joint”.  Movement requires proprioception — you cannot move without a whole host of information. If you are lacking in that information your motor control center will hunt for it elsewhere.

Kathy Dooley
The Jaw compensates

Where can it most easily get this information? The cerebellum deals with movement coordination and proprioception. It’s derived from a brain vesicle called the metencephalon which is also where the pons is derived. The pons innervates the TMJ. They are buddies from way back and communicate easily with each other. So, when you’ve been sitting on your ass all day and your butt’s gone numb and you head to the gym to burn off some steam, the jaw starts to clench or grind in an attempt to provide information to your motor control center that is lacking elsewhere — like in your glutes, or your transverse abdominus or really anywhere in your body. The jaw is a stellar compensator. 

So, if you grind, clench, or your jaw pops or clicks, get assessed rather than just popping in that mouthguard.