What is Bruxism, and How Do I Treat It?
Do you clench or grind your teeth? Maybe you do it when you’re awake, or perhaps you do it in your sleep. Some people do it in response to stress and anxiety while others have no idea it’s even occurring. No matter when this happens, you might be suffering from bruxism, or teeth grinding. Find out the symptoms, causes and treatment for this condition and stop the damage.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a neuromuscular condition where you involuntarily clench, gnash or grind your teeth. It can involve all the teeth or only the front teeth, and the clenching puts pressure on the muscles, tissues and other structures around the jaw and mouth.
Types of Bruxism
Sleep bruxism is the most common and can have extreme effects. Most sleep bruxism patients that grind their teeth have an increased risk of acquiring painful TMJ, and patients with sleep bruxism and TMJ may present more severe, complex clinical findings, such as tinnitus, migraines and neck and shoulder pain; when this is the case, it is crucial to treat the TMJ to then ease the bruxism. People with sleep bruxism are also more likely to have other sleeping disorders, including snoring and sleep apnea.
Thankfully, there are many symptoms to help you identify the issue. These symptoms may include:
- Damage to your tongue or the inside of your cheek
- Dental abnormalities, including blunted, broken, chipped, cracked, flattened, fractured, loose, missing, short or weakened teeth, crowns fillings and implants
- Difficulty sleeping (for you or your partner)
- Face, jaw or neck pain, soreness and stiffness
- Headaches in the temple and back of the head
- Pain that feels like an earache, but it’s not your ear
- Popping or clicking sounds in the jaw joint
- Receding gums or worn-down teeth that expose deeper layers
- Teeth clenching or grinding (sometimes this can be loud enough for others to hear, especially at night)
- Teeth damage, pain and sensitivity
- Tired or tight jaw muscles/locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
Keep in mind that most people suffering from bruxism are not aware they are clenching or grinding their teeth. If possible, ask others if they notice or hear your teeth grinding, especially when you are asleep.
Though doctors are not completely sure what causes bruxism, it may be due to a combination of physical, psychological and genetic factors. Although stress and anxiety may intensify bruxism for some people, in the majority of cases, a misaligned jaw is the main factor. Bruxism may also be caused by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), dental issues or other health conditions.
Here are some risk factors that can increase your chances of suffering from teeth grinding:
- Bruxism may be a side effect of some psychiatric medications, including antidepressants and antipsychotics
- Increased anxiety and stress can cause teeth clenching and grinding
- Lifestyle choices, such as smoking tobacco, drinking caffeinated beverages or alcohol and using recreational drugs, can lead to teeth grinding
- Mental health and medical disorders, including ADHD, dementia, epilepsy, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), Huntington’s or Parkinson’s, may be linked to bruxism
- People with aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personalities can increase the chances of having bruxism
- Types of sleep disorders, including night terrors, sleep apnea, sleep paralysis or sleep talking, may cause teeth grinding
People with bruxism may also suffer from arthritis; changed facial appearance; damaged, fractured or loose teeth; jaw or temporomandibular joint disorders; headaches; severe ear, facial or jaw pain; sleep apnea; and more.
If you ever have any concerns about your teeth, jaw or mouth, see your dentist or doctor so they can make a proper diagnosis. Please note that some dentists are not equipped to diagnose bruxism or TMJ. If you snore and have sleep apnea, you may also need to undergo a sleep study.
Though there is no cure, possible treatment options can include dental approaches for pain management, muscle relaxants or Botox.
You can also practice some at-home remedies, including:
- Alternate a hot compress and ice pack to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief
- Avoid chewing on hard food or gum
- Avoid stimulating substances, such as caffeinated food or beverages and alcohol
- Drink plenty of water
- Get a proper amount of sleep and exercise regularly
- Massage and stretch the jaw and neck muscles to help them relax
- Reduce stress and anxiety with breathing exercises, massages, relaxation techniques and yoga
- Schedule regular dental exams to avoid and prevent any further problems
Children and Bruxism
Most children start grinding their teeth at one of two points: when their baby teeth come in, or when their permanent teeth come in.
The best time to explore issues with the jaw that can lead to bruxism, sleeping disorders and TMJ is in early childhood between the ages of five to nine years old.
By evaluating the upper and lower jaw relationships and the child’s airway through a simple CT scan, many misalignment issues can be corrected at an early age through proper orthodontics and the use of appliances.