A tender jaw, a dull headache and unexplained tooth damage are all possible clues to Bruxism. Bruxism, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, is thought to be experienced by most people at some point in their lives. While infrequent occurrences may cause little damage other than waking with a sore jaw, habitual grinding can cause many oral health complications.
What are the Causes of Teeth Grinding?
Although there may be other unknown causes, it has long been thought that stress or anxiety plays a role. More recently, experts on the oral condition believe that it is most probably caused by an abnormal bite, a condition where the teeth from the upper and lower jaw meet improperly, and experienced during NREM ( Non Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Missing or crooked teeth may also play a role. Additional contributing factors may include:
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Caffeine consumption
• Alcohol consumption
• Cigarettes smoking
Common Signs of Teeth Grinding
It may seem surprising that many people can be well into their adulthood before they become aware that they are grinding their teeth. Since grinding occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that it is happening unless it is caught by parent or partner. Some only become aware when they experience severe pain or broken and damaged teeth. Some of the most common sings include:
• Dull or constant headache
• Sore jaw
• Worn teeth
• Cracks or fractures in teeth
• Frequently lost fillings on the back or biting teeth
Who Experiences Teeth Grinding?
Adults, infants and children all grind their teeth. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 8% of adults and 15% to 33% of children grind their teeth at night. Children most commonly grind as new teeth emerge and during the stages of mixed dentition, or having both baby and adult teeth.
Problems Associated with Bruxism
Some of the problems that occur when a person regularly grinds their teeth include tooth fractures and worn enamel. The enamel on the tooth is the tooth’s natural defense against cavities and tooth discoloration, and grinding leaves the tooth vulnerable to these conditions. Even if the tooth grinding is not severe, over time, the tooth can eventually be damaged beyond repair. This is especially concerning when the adult teeth have emerged. Preserving the adult teeth is critical in later years and missing or damaged teeth contribute to poor nutrition, heart disease an other serious health concerns.
The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing your dentist if you suspect that you might be grinding. A dentist will check for several signs, such as:
• Unusual wear patterns on the teeth
• Breakdown of dental appliances or restorations
• Tooth fractures
• Jaw and tooth sensitivity
The dentist will rule out any other possible problems, such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). If Bruxism is suspected, you may be referred to asleep specialist for further testing.
Treatment for Bruxism can include lifestyle changes or the use of oral appliances. In many cases, no intervention is necessary. Most children stop or outgrow grinding and most adults do not do so often or severely enough to require much more than simple lifestyle changes. Some of the therapies include:
• Relaxation, meditation or stretching exercises before bed to reduce stress.
• Dental appliances such as mouth guards, night guards, or splints. Both mouth guards and splints, which fit over the teeth to guard them, are available over the counter or custom made by your dentist. Success with these interventions varies. Most over the counter appliances do not fit well and custom appliances are expensive and are quickly outgrown by children. Appliances can be dislodged at night and can be difficult to tolerate. However, adults seem to adjust more readily.
• In the most severe cases, a dentist may reshape several teeth or otherwise help correct a problem bite to correct the problem.
• Behavior therapy is often used to treat bruxism. The patient is able to be made aware of the grinding and the suspected cause and able to self correct. This is found to have the most successful long term results.
In addition to causing residual pain during the day, grinding can cause long term damage. If you suspect you might be grinding or clenching your teeth at night, it is well worth checking with your physician or dentist to see if an intervention may be necessary.