What is bruxism?
Bruxism is a condition in which you grind, gnash, or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth when you’re awake, or clench and grind them during sleep.
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Issues with bruxism
If bruxism is mild, it can be managed and may not cause many issues. However, if it’s more severe and frequent, it can lead to short term issues such as earache, stiffness/tightness in the shoulders, facial pain and jaw ache. The long-term issues can include teeth sensitivity, damage to the teeth and jaw disorders, such as temporomandibular joint disorder (known as TMD or TMJD).
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Why does bruxism occur?
There are many factors which can lead to teeth grinding, and it’s often a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors. If patients suffer from an abnormal bite, where the teeth do not come together properly, or they have crooked or missing teeth, this can cause bruxism. Awake bruxism can be due to emotions such as stress and anxiety, tension, anger, or frustration. People who experience lifestyle stressors account for the majority of bruxism cases.
Sleep bruxism can also occur. This is when anxiety from work or at home can manifest itself subconsciously when the person is sleeping. This continued tooth grinding and jaw clenching wears away the enamel on the teeth and can lead to more permanent damage. Sleep bruxism can tend to be inherited from other family members.
Bruxism can also be an uncommon side effect of some psychiatric medications. Similarly, people who smoke or drink excessively or take recreational drugs can develop bruxism. It can also be associated with some medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, sleep-related disorders, and ADHD.
What are the symptoms of bruxism?
The signs and symptoms of bruxism/temporomandibular joint disorders can be as varied as the causes, but you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Teeth can appear shorter or get worn down
- Teeth or fillings can break or fall out
- A change in your bite and how your teeth meet
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds when you move your jaw
- Difficulty opening and closing your mouth or a ‘locking’ jaw
- Pain or discomfort in your jaw muscles, especially when you eat or yawn
- Pain in front of your ears, which may spread to your face, head, neck or upper back
- Migraines or headaches
- Pressure behind your eyes or inside your ears
How to stop bruxism?
There are several ways to get bruxism treatment. Lifestyle changes can help mild cases but in severe cases, joint surgery may be needed. Splints and mouth guards can be worn during the night to prevent grinding teeth in sleep. These are designed to keep teeth separated to avoid the damage caused by clenching and grinding. Michigan Splints have been commonly used, and more recently the introduction of smaller splints such as the SCi has proven to be extremely successful for reducing symptoms caused by tooth grinding and clenching. The SCi is the most clinically effective FDA cleared treatment for TMD, bruxism, and medically diagnosed migraines.
A mouth guard, like the ones used by sports people, is a flexible rubber shield which covers the teeth to prevent grinding. Mouth splints are made from hard plastic and are specifically made to fit over your upper and lower teeth to stop grinding teeth at night. However, some individuals may require further treatments.
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Frequently asked questions
During sleep studies, it was found that bruxism often starts with a type of sleep disturbance in the central nervous system. This means that factors such as stress and anxiety can make bruxism worse.
There are three common causes of bruxism. These include stress and anxiety, sleep issues such as snoring and sleep apnoea and taking some medications such as certain anti-depressants.
There are several signs that bruxism should be addressed. These include:
- Eroded teeth
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Facial pain
- Overly sensitive teeth
- Tense facial and jaw muscles
- Dislocation of the jaw
- Locking of the jaw
- A popping or clicking in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Damage to the inside of the cheek
You may want to avoid very chewy foods as they may hurt your jaw and teeth, especially if you’ve had bruxism during the night.