We know that temporomandibular joint disorder (called TMJ or TMD) can affect many systems in the body. Some of them are quite distant from the jaw joint itself. Others are close, but have no immediately obvious connection. That is the case for a recently reported side effect of TMJ: reduced flow of saliva. The connection is not immediately obvious, and researchers did not put forward an explanation. However, the association could contribute to complications of TMJ for your teeth. This is another reason why people experiencing symptoms of TMJ should seek treatment. Not all symptoms related to TMJ are immediately obvious, even those that can be damaging.
Linking TMJ to Saliva
For this study, researchers wanted to see whether people with TMJ had lower saliva production than those without the condition. To study this, they compared salivary flow from 45 women with TMJ to that for 30 women without TMJ (healthy controls). They also looked at several characteristics of TMJ that are associated with different subtypes of the condition, including:
- Chronic pain
- Limited jaw movement
Most of these characteristics are well known, but “somatization” probably warrants further discussion. Somatization is when people report medical symptoms that do not have discernible organic causes. Often, then inference is that the symptoms are not physical but psychological manifestations of other complaints (such as anxiety). The role of somatization in TMJ is controversial, but for some people it seems to be part of the condition.
Researchers found that women with TMJ had significantly lower salivary flow than healthy controls. However, the women with TMJ did not seem to be aware of the effect–there was no difference in subjective reports of dry mouth. The women who had the lowest salivary flows were those who had limited jaw movement and those who had no somatization. In other words, low saliva flow was associated with women who had objectively verifiable characteristics of TMJ without psychological manifestations. Jaw pain was not associated with low salivary flow, likely because it is a characteristic of both physical and psychological manifestations of TMJ.
TMJ, Tooth Wear, and Saliva
People with TMJ often experience accelerated tooth wear. It is quite likely that low saliva plays a role in speeding up tooth wear. That is because saliva is important to healthy teeth.
Saliva does three key things for your teeth: it kills oral bacteria, neutralizes acids in the mouth, and remineralizes your teeth.
People with low saliva flow are more prone to cavities and tooth wear. Damage to teeth can occur because of exposure to oral bacteria or because of acids in the mouth that are not neutralized (like soda or sports drinks). And teeth can be weakened if they are not getting enough exposure to minerals in saliva. All of these factors could make your teeth more likely to experience wear from jaw clenching and grinding (common in TMJ) or just daily wear.
This study does not tell us whether treating TMJ will restore the flow of saliva. But we do know that TMJ treatment can help prevent damage to your teeth. We also know that prevention is better than reconstruction, although sometimes we do not start treatment soon enough to protect your teeth.
If you are looking to protect your teeth from TMJ-related damage, or if you need to repair damaged teeth in St. Louis, we can help. Please call (314) 375-5353 (Downtown) or (314) 678-7876 (Clayton) today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Chris Hill at City Smiles.