Have you ever woken up with soreness in your face or found yourself unconsciously clenching your teeth together during the day? Has your partner heard you grinding your teeth at night? These are signs of bruxism, a common habit of teeth clenching and grinding that affects millions of people around the world. This condition can happen either while you sleep, causing you to clench and grind your teeth at night, or while you are awake, causing you to clench your jaw throughout the day, sometimes without even knowing it. While mild bruxism is relatively harmless, more serious cases can have adverse effects over time.
Effects of Bruxism. It’s normal to grind your teeth from time to time, but when frequency and intensity increases, it can lead to other issues. Until the damage or complications begin to surface, many people are unaware they suffer from bruxism. The frequent clenching and grinding during sleep can cause you to wake up with sore facial muscles, headaches, or earaches. In addition to this general discomfort, prolonged bruxism can eventually damage tooth enamel, loosen teeth, and crack or break teeth, fillings, and crowns.
Severe bruxism has been linked to problems with the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which are the joints that connect the lower jaw bone to the skull and are located just in front of the ears. This may result in a clicking sound when your mouth opens and closes, as well as trouble chewing, headaches, or earaches. If you think you might suffer from bruxism, it’s best to know and watch for signs and symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of bruxism include the following:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, sometimes loud enough to disturb your partner
- Tired or tight jaw muscles
- A locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of dentin
- Flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Jaw, neck, or face pain or soreness
- Dull headache starting in the temples
- Pain that feels like an earache, but with no apparent problem with the ear
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
- Sleep disruption
Possible Causes. Commonly, teeth grinding is attributed to high levels of stress, but doctors aren’t exactly sure what exactly causes prolonged bruxism. There have been connections made between bruxism and an abnormal bite, with high spots in the mouth causing an issue when the mouth is closed. There have also been correlations made between clenching and grinding and sleep-related issues, like sleep apnea or night terrors.
Treatment Options. Mild bruxism may not require treatment as long as your condition doesn’t worsen. If you see damage or have noticeable discomfort, it may be necessary to see your dentist and discuss treatment options. A dentist can usually tell you if your clenching and grinding issues are related to the alignment of your teeth. If this is the case, filing or straightening of the teeth may be beneficial to keep the effects of bruxism under control.
If your bruxism seems to be related to stress, you might want to address the stressors in your life in order to keep clenching and grinding under control. Techniques such as regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, or daily meditation practice can help reduce overall stress levels. If sleep bruxism is causing damage to your teeth, being fitted for a mouthguard can help prevent further damage. When worn every night, this device helps protect your teeth and dental restorations over time. This type of mouth or “night guard” is very helpful in treating bruxism caused by stress.
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