Treating TMJ issues: restless legs and sleep bruxism

A new clue about bruxism.

A neurology practice noted that of its patients who had restless legs syndrome (RLS), 60% also had bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep). They found that 52% had RLS, bruxism, and migraines.

Do you relate?

The lead neurologist for this study speculated there is a gene that links these conditions.

It gets more interesting. Both restless legs syndrome and bruxism are involuntary movements occurring during sleep. Is bruxism “restless jaw syndrome?”

I’m always happy to see more research about TMJ-related issues, especially because there are so many factors that play a role in jaw dysfunction and pain.

More about bruxism.

Bruxism includes clenching and grinding the teeth. Some distinguish these as “waking bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”.

They may have different causes, in my opinion.

Sleep bruxism, in contrast to daytime clenching, is hard to treat because it occurs when unaware of your behavior and unable to change it.

Waking bruxism is a habit that can change with awareness and practice. I’ve helped many clenchers learn how to relax their mouth position.

Some things I’ve noted about bruxism in my manual therapy practice:

  • Many people don’t know they grind during sleep until a dentist tells them they have damaged teeth.
  • Bruxism often requires expensive dental work: mouthguards or splints to prevent further damage, and crowns to fortify cracked or broken teeth.
  • Sometimes the noise of grinding during sleep is loud enough to wake up family members, and that’s how people learn they have sleep bruxism.
  • People who grind at night often wake up with jaw, face, or neck pain, earaches, and/or headaches.
  • Over time, bruxism can damage the temporomandibular joints, possibly requiring surgery.

Dentists and jaw issues.

Many people expect dentists to be experts on jaw issues, yet their domain is treating the teeth and gums.

Learning about TMJ disorders is not required in dental school.

General practice dentists can prevent further tooth damage with appliances like mouthguards and splints. They can repair existing tooth damage.

Some dentists may try to adjust the positioning of the TMJs, and a few dentists also address airway issues (like sleep apnea, which also may accompany sleep bruxism) in their work.

Dentists do not address stress or tension in the jaw muscles, which contribute so much to jaw pain.

Some dentists and hygienists in the Austin area refer people with jaw pain or issues opening wide to me. (New alternative to manual therapy during the COVID pandemic: my upcoming online course, Self-Help for Jaw Pain.)

Solutions to try.

If you grind your teeth during sleep, it is possible to stop by using hypnotherapy and EFT.

I often recommend a recorded hypnotherapy session for bruxism that’s available on YouTube to listen to before sleep.

I don’t know if it works for everyone, but it’s soothing — I always fall asleep before it ends. Less stress is always desirable.

As mentioned above, dopamine agonists are prescribed for low dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward — when you anticipate a pleasurable activity such as eating a delicious meal, spending time with someone you love, or receiving a big check.

It’s sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it affects your enthusiasm, motivation, and focus.

If you suffer from bruxism, before going the pharmaceutical route with dopamine agonist drugs, you may want to consider nutrition — consuming foods or taking supplements that raise your dopamine levels.

In particular the amino acid tyrosine increases dopamine.

I found a few links that may be helpful:

Massage therapy for jaw pain

The January/February 2019 issue of Massage & Bodywork (magazine for massage therapists) includes the article “Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: Biting Off More Than We Can Chew”. It’s full of information about the anatomy, pathology, demographics, contributing factors, symptoms, and treatment options for TMJD. The author is Ruth Werner, who wrote A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology.

The article mentions that many dental professionals enthusiastically recommend massage therapy as an early intervention for TMJ disorders, which are often accompanied by dysfunction elsewhere in the body — the shoulder girdle, pelvis, and feet, for example.   Regular massage therapy sessions can also help relieve pain and tension in the external jaw muscles.

The author states, “The [internal] pterygoid muscles require more specialized skill… Work inside the mouth carries some serious responsibilities… It’s not for beginners, and it’s not for dabbling. When things go wrong in this joint, problems can reverberate through the whole body… [Massage therapists working inside the mouth should] get advanced training…

“Intraoral massage may trigger unintended responses… Emotional release in response to work in and around the mouth is also a strong possibility. It is critical that massage therapists be mindful of their scope of practice and respectful of their clients’ processes if this happens. Massage therapists must be prepared to be present, nonjudgmental, and appropriately supportive for this kind of event. Once again, it’s not for dabblers. If you want to do this work, get appropriate training.”

After reading this, I feel good about what I do. Massage therapists trained to work inside the mouth mostly follow three paths of advanced training: craniosacral therapy (like me), neuromuscular therapy, and structural integration (aka Rolfing).

Also, not all craniosacral therapists or neuromuscular therapists work with the internal pterygoid muscles, so be sure to ask beforehand if that’s what you expect. That was part of my training with Ryan Hallford, not (so far) with the Upledger Institute.

Also, I’m thanking the Upledger Institute for my training in SomatoEmotional Release as well as past experience and research in trauma recovery.

I’m grateful to see that treatment for TMJ disorders by licensed massage therapists is getting media attention, and that TMJD itself is getting more recognition. The TMJ Association recently announced that the National Institutes of Health have agreed to do more research. It’s very much needed — practitioners know what we don’t know, and it’s a lot.

Results of Zero Balancing research study show relief of stress, tension, and anxiety

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 1.52.48 PMNotably, there was a 61 percent reduction in stress after a Zero Balancing session on average, compared to 12 percent for people who simply rested during an equivalent period of time.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 1.53.59 PMPerceptions of wellness, positivity, clarity, and harmony were higher after a ZB session as well.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 1.55.21 PMI was lucky enough to participate in this study as a recipient!

Here’s a summary of the study’s findings, and here’s a more in-depth look at the study and findings.