Do you grind your teeth while you sleep at night? Clench your jaw or gnash your teeth when nervous? You might be one of the millions of people suffering from bruxism and you might not even know it. Bruxism is a medical term for excessive involuntary (or habitual) grinding or clenching of the jaw. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the problem until they experience the effects such as facial pain or soreness, tooth damage, and severe or consistent headaches.
What causes bruxism?
Where does bruxism come from? Is it a medical condition or simply a bad habit? Can it be “cured” and can related damaged teeth be repaired?
The fact is that experts worldwide do not yet know what causes bruxism but general consensus is that likely factors include medications, lifestyle, stress, genetics, illness, and malocclusions (misaligned teeth). Interestingly, studies show that 20-50 percent of people afflicted with bruxism have a direct family member or relative with the same issue.
Medications and drugs from antidepressants to sleeping pills to cocaine are also proven to encourage bruxism, as is heavy drinking, smoking, and lots of caffeine. Those with malocclusions often unconsciously self-correct in an attempt to “fix” awkward bite patterns. Even illnesses including Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, and sleeping disorders can increase grinding of teeth.
During a regular dental checkup, if your dentist suspects the presence of bruxism, they will work with you to determine the cause by first asking questions regarding your overall dental health, any daily medications, daily routines, and your sleeping patterns.
Next, a dentist might check for tenderness in jaw muscles, broken or missing teeth, damage to underlying bone, joint disorders like TMJ, and other health concerns.
In many cases, treatment is not necessary. Many children, for example, outgrow bruxism without treatment, and many adults don’t grind or clench badly enough to require treatment. However, in severe or chronic cases, specialized dental procedures, or medications are available to help further damage.
The bruxism world
Bruxism is commonly classified in one of two varieties: awake and sleep.
Awake bruxism is essentially unconscious grinding of teeth due to emotionally stressful situations, anxiety, tension, fear, or frustration. This type of bruxism tends to be more common in females.
Sleep bruxism happens in response to some sort of arousal during sleep, such as a bad dream.
Dental damage is likely in both instances but is typically worse in sleep bruxism. For example, many children grind their teeth in response to earaches, growing teeth, and other traditional growing pains. Fortunately, kids usually naturally outgrow the problem.
How do I know I have bruxism?
If you grind your teeth frequently, you will soon see signs of it. Excessive tooth wear causes teeth to crack or become otherwise damaged and expose the sensitive dentin inside. You’ll know if a splash of cold water sends a shock wave of pain through your body. Left unchecked, bacteria can move into a cracked tooth, set up shop, and wreak all kinds of havoc. Other symptoms of bruxism include sensitive teeth, tooth fractures, PDL inflammation, headaches, and interrupted sleep.
Treatment for bruxism
The best way to address bruxism and get on a solid healing track is to beat it at the source. It doesn’t do much good to have fancy cosmetic dental procedures done if you keep right on grinding.
Mouth guards or splints are commonly recommended and work very well. Both are forms of thin plastic and worn at night to protect a patient’s teeth. In cases of alcohol or drugs causing grinding, the best fix is to rid those habits from your life altogether or at least cut way back.
Stress or anxiety management has also shown to be an effective course of action. This approach helps patients learn strategies that promote relaxation which in turn helps alleviate grinding.
Behavioral changes can influence the way you bite down as well as your jaw position. Your dentist can show you these techniques and recommend daily exercises.
Biofeedback is another method for people having a hard time controlling their teeth grinding. Biofeedback uses monitoring equipment to help you control target muscle activity.
For more information on bruxism and tooth wear, contact Rancho San Diego Dental at (619) 363-6296 or ranchosandiegodental.com.