Bruxism is a medical condition that causes people to unconsciously grind, gnash and clench their teeth from time to time. Although occasional teeth grinding does not cause much harm, when done on a regular basis, it can cause teeth damage among other oral health complications. Teeth grinding affects people of all ages from childhood through adulthood.
Why Do People Grind Their Teeth?
The cause of bruxism is not entirely known. However, most people grind their teeth when they are feeling stressful or anxious. Seventy percent of all bruxism cases are due to stress or anxiety which affects them subconsciously especially when sleeping. Other times, teeth grinding may occur due to an abnormal bite, crooked or missing teeth. Teeth Grinding may also be caused by a sleep disorder such as apnea.
What Are The Symptoms Of Tooth Grinding?
Since teeth grinding happens typically during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. However, they may experience a sore jaw or a dull but a constant headache. These are some of the most common signs of bruxism.
Your loved ones may also inform if you grind at night as they can hear you. In severe cases, bruxism may cause:
- Increased tooth sensitivity and pain
- Neck, jaw or face pain or soreness
- Headaches and earaches
- A dull morning jaw ache
- Unexplained facial pain
- Occasional swelling on the side of your lower jaw due to clenching
If you suspect that you grind your teeth, consult your dentist so that they can check for any signs of bruxism such as excessive wear on your teeth or jaw tenderness.
Why Is Teeth Grinding Harmful?
Excessive teeth grinding can be harmful. If not treated early, bruxism can lead to loosening, fracturing or tooth loss. Other than damaging your teeth, severe tooth grinding may result in an earache, jaw joint disease, worsen TMD/TMJ or even change the appearance of your face.
Why You Grind Your Teeth at Night?
Sleep-related movement disorders cause sleep bruxism. The movement causes uncontrollable or involuntary movements of the jaw.
What Can I Do to Stop Grinding My Teeth?
The first thing you should do after realising you grind your teeth is to talk to your dentist. During the visit, your dentist will conduct a routine exam to check the extent of the wear and other dental conditions to prevent permanent damage and costly treatments in the future. After that, your dentist may fit your mouth with a mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding when you sleep. Other tips to help you stop grinding your teeth include:
- Cutting back on foods that contain caffeine such as chocolate, coffee and cola
- Avoid chewing on pencils or pens as they precondition your jaws to clenching
- Relax your jaws before bedtime by holding a warm cloth against your cheek near the earlobe
Stress and anxiety are one of the major contributing factors of teeth grinding. People who are under a lot of pressure are more prone to clenching and gnashing their teeth. If stress causes your bruxism, try to find various relaxation techniques to help you relax and unwind. If you take alcohol, try to cut back or abstain from drinking late in the evening for a while to see if it helps reduce your teeth grinding. Here are a few natural treatments of bruxism:
- Stress management and relaxation techniques can help relieve any possible intense emotions that may be causing you to clench or grind your teeth.
- Engaging in behavioural therapy such as practising proper jaw position can help to steer you towards stopping grinding your teeth.
Just like other disorders, treating teeth grinding calls for you to find out the cause of the condition. If you believe your sleep disorder is due to bruxism, scheduling an appointment with a sleep specialist may help diagnose the malady. Most times, medication is not usually used to treat bruxism. However, your dentist may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, which helps to relieve pain and swelling around your jaw caused by grinding and clenching.
A mouth guard, also known as the occlusal splint is the primary treatment for bruxism. This device can be custom fitted by your dentist so that you place it in your mouth at night to manage teeth clenching, grinding and TMJ disorders. The mouth guard is made of soft or hard acrylic material. Although the guard may not help to stop all the grinding, it helps to redistribute the force exerted, thereby protecting your teeth. This device also helps to keep your jaw unclenched even during the day when you are not wearing it.
At Savina Dental Clinics, we specialise in managing chronic headaches and facial pain. Our patients are taken through a detailed gnathological examination of their occlusion (bite), jaws, jaw muscles and joints and tailor-made solutions may be prescribed if simpler treatments fail to provide relief.
These treatments include, but are not limited to:
- Therapeutic (as opposed to protective) night guards or splints designed to stop the vicious circle of grinding teeth => muscle spasm =>more clenching (which paradoxically affords temporary pain relief) => more muscle damage => chronic pain
- Orthodontic treatment to improve occlusion (bite)
- Occlusal equilibration (bite balancing)
- Full mouth rehabilitation including replacing missing teeth
If you require more information about this treatment, you can use our free e-Consultation service here.
Do Children Grind Their Teeth?
Although it is most common amongst adults, teeth grinding can also affect children. Approximately 15% of children grind their teeth. Teeth grinding may appear in young children whose teeth are just emerging and when their permanent teeth grow. Bruxism in children is more common during sleep time rather than when they are awake. In such cases, the bruxism may be as a result of:
- Psychological factors such as stress or anxiety
- Misaligned teeth or irregular contact of the upper and lower teeth
- Dental illnesses
- Other medical conditions such as allergies or endocrine disorders
What Is The Prognosis For Teeth Grinding?
Bruxism in children often stops at the age of 13 in most children, even without any special treatment. In the event it does not stop, your dentist can fit your child with a night bite plate to prevent excessive tooth damage.
If you are diagnosed with bruxism, learning how to stop this condition can help prevent any long-term dental health complications. Untreated teeth grinding may lead to extended periods of poor quality sleep or even sleep apnea. Make sure to consult your dentist for the right treatment to help you stop grinding teeth.
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Savina Clinic – Dental & Implantology Centres are friendly, state-of-the-art practices in Malta and Gozo dedicated to comprehensive quality dental care. Savina Dental is an innovative dental practice in Malta and prides itself on the high-quality customer service, low waiting room times, attention to detail and the advanced dental technology at their disposal.
Dr Joseph Xuereb
Dental & Implant Surgeon. Principal
Savina Dental Clinics