Bruxism refers to the unconscious grinding or clenching of the teeth when a person is awake (awake bruxism) or is sleeping(sleep bruxism). It is mainly caused by dueto severe stress and anxiety. Bruxism does not usually cause any harm but if it occurs repeatedly, it can damage the teeth or lead to oral health problems.
Bruxism usually occurs during sleep and is difficult to identify. It is associated with the following symptoms:
- Teeth grinding or clenching which can be loud enough to wake up a sleeping partner
- Wearing off of the enamel coat on the teeth
- Increased sensitivity of teeth and teeth pain
- Teeth fractures
- Flattening, chipping or loosening of the teeth
- Locked jaw that doesn’t open or close completely
- Sleep disturbances
- Painful sensation in the ears which is not due to any ear problem
- Mild headache
- Jaw, face or neck pain or soreness
If any of the above symptoms are present or if they become bothersome, then consult the dentist.
The following are some common causes of bruxism -
- Stress and anxiety are the two most important causes of bruxism during sleep.
- Sleep disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea can increase the chances of teeth grinding during sleep.
- Malocclusion or an abnormal positioning of the teeth and the jaws also can lead to bruxism.
- Sometimes bruxism can occur as a side effect of certain medicines such as antidepressants or as a symptom of somediseases affecting the facial muscles or facial nerves.
Teeth grinding is a problem both in adults and children. Many children tend to grind their teeth especially during the teething period and while developing permanent teeth. However, this usually resolves during adulthood. The following factors may increase the risk of a person to develop bruxism:
- Behaving violently during sleep such as kicking and punching
- Talking or mumbling during sleep
- Family history of bruxism
- Stress, anger and frustration
- Drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages
- Smoking cigarette
- Use of recreational drugs
Repeated bruxism can result in the following complications:
- Teeth fractures
- Loosening and falling off of the teeth
- Worsening of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD)
- Changes in the appearance of face
- Infections of the oral cavity
- Dental abscesses
- Tension type of headaches
- Severe facial or jaw pain
The dentist performs a physical examination of the mouth and jaw to check for the signs of bruxism. This may include checking for teeth damage and jaw tenderness.
The treatment options for bruxism include the following:
- Use of a mouth splint or a mouth guard at night times may be recommended to protect the teeth from grinding during sleep.
- If stress has resulted in bruxism, then the dentist will suggest techniques to reduce stress. This may include therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.
- In case of sleep disorders, treating it can help to prevent teeth grinding.
- Some individuals with sleep bruxism are found to benefit from hypnosis.
In addition to preventing further damage, the treatment also involves restoring the damaged teeth. The dentist will use special fillings and crowns to maintain the shape and size of the teeth.
The followingself-care measures may prevent teeth grinding:
- Avoid chewing gums as it helps your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching or grinding the teeth.
- Practice methods to avoidclenching such as putting the tip of the tongue between the teeth.
- Avoid foods which contain caffeine such as coffee, chocolates and colas.
- Avoid alcohol consumption as it increases intensity of teeth grinding.
- Relax the jaw muscles at night by placing a warm washcloth against the cheek or by performing muscle relaxation exercises as suggested by the dentist.