TMJ Disorder: Health Problems of Teeth and Gums

People with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder are more likely to develop sensitive teeth, gum disease and eating disorders. Here are the common problems of teeth and gums associated with TMJ disorder.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder affects the jaw joints and causes a wide range of symptoms, including jaw pain and tension, headache, muscle pain and problems with the teeth and gums. For a list of TMJ symptoms please see: Easy Self-Test for Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder.

Because TMJ disorder involves grinding and clenching the teeth, TMJ patients are more vulnerable to common oral health problems. Tooth and gum disorders in TMJ patients include:

  • sensitive teeth
  • receding gums
  • gingivitis or periodontal disease
  • plaque, tartar and tooth decay
  • phantom tooth pain
  • chipped, broken or shattered teeth

Symptoms and effects of TMJ tooth and gum disorders include:

  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • pain and tenderness in the gums
  • pain while eating or chewing
  • eating disorders
  • recurrent gum disease
  • bleeding gums
  • loss of teeth
  • periodontal bone loss

TMJ Disorder and Sensitive Teeth

Much of the pain of sensitive teeth comes from the trigeminal nerve, one of the thirteen cranial nerves. Trigeminal Nerve V is one of the major nerves affected in TMJ disorder. It’s a paired nerve, emerging from the brain stem and branching into both sides of the face. A smaller branch of the trigeminal nerve extends into each tooth.


Grinding and clenching the teeth can wear down the tooth enamel, exposing the dentine beneath. Just below the dentine is the sensitive pulp of the tooth.

The trigeminal nerve rests in the tooth pulp. With the outer enamel of the tooth eroded, the nerve is vulnerable to stimuli such as heat, cold and sugar. Exposure to these, or even a breath of cold air, can cause stabbing pain or a dull, throbbing ache in the teeth.

The trigeminal nerve can also become inflamed simply because of the pressure of clenching and grinding the teeth. As well, the nerve may be compressed at the neck due to structural dysfunction of the vertebrae, or it may be pinched by surrounding muscles, tendons or swollen tissue.

See: Signs that You Clench or Grind Your Teeth at Night

TMJ Disorder and Receding Gums

Receding gums cause tooth sensitivity and mouth irritation as the root of the teeth become exposed. When the gums recede, teeth are more vulnerable to plaque and tartar buildup, bacterial infection and other oral disorders.

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