When you’re doing something that’s detrimental to your health, you’re typically aware of your actions (or lack thereof), and — hopefully — become motivated to change your behavior. But when it’s something you’re doing unconsciously, becoming aware of your action and taking steps to overcome it is far more challenging. Such is the case if you’re among the approximately 40 million Americans who experience bruxism — popularly known as teeth-grinding.
While some people clench and grind their teeth while awake, so-called “sleep bruxism” is more common — not to mention more insidious. As the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) reports, it is estimated that people with bruxism clench or bite down with a force six times greater than normal forces.
According to Mayo Clinic, sleep bruxism can cause the following types of damage if left undetected:
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose.
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing the dentin of your tooth.
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity.
In addition, according to WebMD, bruxism can affect your jaws, cause or worsen temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), and even change the appearance of your face. It also disrupts sleep, which is a well-documented factor in triggering numerous health issues, such as hypertension, weight-related issues and type 2 diabetes.
You may be surprised to learn that bruxism affects children, as well. In fact, approximately 15% to 33% of children grind their teeth. As WebMD notes, “Children who grind their teeth tend to do so at two peak times — when their baby teeth emerge and when their permanent teeth come in. Most children lose the teeth grinding habit after these two sets of teeth have come in more fully.”
Signs and Symptoms of Bruxism
Because bruxism often occurs during sleep, you’re unlikely to be conscious of grinding your teeth while it’s happening. You need to be aware of the following signs and symptoms of bruxism in yourself — and in your children:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to wake up your sleep partner.
- Teeth that are becoming flattened, fractured, chipped or loose.
- Worn tooth enamel.
- Broken or loose fillings.
- Increased tooth pain/sensitivity.
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely.
- Jaw, neck or face pain or soreness.
- Pain that feels like an earache, though it’s actually not a problem with your ear.
- Dull headache starting in the temples.
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek.
- Sleep disruption.
What Causes Bruxism?
There are many potential causes of bruxism. As our blog post — “What Causes Bruxism and Can it be Fixed?” — relates, some causes are well-known, and some are only speculated due to minimal research.
Stress has been implicated as a major factor, as your jaw will naturally clench and become tighter in times of stress or anxiety. Behaviors related to stress — such as tiredness, alcohol consumption, heavy caffeine consumption and smoking are also known contributors.
Additionally, bruxism can be caused by neurological diseases like Huntington’s or Parkinson’s, or it can be caused as a side effect of medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and amphetamines. Sleep apnea is also known to cause bruxism.
Treatments for Bruxism
If you experience one or more symptoms of bruxism — or notice them in your child — schedule an appointment with your dentist for a diagnosis and treatment plan. A custom-made dental mouth guard for sleeping may be recommended for you or your child. In addition to a dental night guard for your mouth, a dentist or orthodontist may give you a splint to fit on either the top or lower teeth to help relax the jaw or prevent teeth damage.
You also may be referred to your primary care provider to see if they can determine any other factors — such as sleep apnea — and provide appropriate treatment. This could include a prescription for muscle relaxers to alleviate intense jaw clenching.
Receiving a diagnosis of bruxism may feel like a mixed blessing. On one hand, you’ve been able to identify your condition and have the help of your dentist in treating it — or at the very least, monitor the condition of your teeth and jaw to be on the lookout for damage. On the other hand, not being able to catch yourself in the act of clenching and grinding your teeth so you can stop is frustrating.
Because we feel in better control over our health and well-being when we’re able to do something for ourselves, discuss the following popular self-treatments that are often recommended for bruxism with your dentist — and try them if your dentist agrees that one or more may be beneficial for your specific situation:
- Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as colas, chocolate and coffee.
- Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption.
- Do not chew on pencils or pens or anything that is not food. Avoid chewing gum, as it allows your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth.
- Train yourself not to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice that you clench or grind during the day, position the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This practice trains your jaw muscles to relax.
- Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm washcloth against your cheek in front of your earlobe.
- Make a conscious effort to have a relaxation routine before bedtime. This will help reduce any lingering stress before you fall asleep.
- Maintain a cool, comfortable, and dark sleeping environment to keep distractions away.
- Change your sleeping position.
- If you’re not already doing so, begin a regular exercise program for your physical and psychological well-being.
As we acknowledged earlier, bruxism is a challenging condition by its very nature, but can be alleviated. Although there is no one-size-fits-all cure, working with your dentist will go a long way in preventing the long-term damage that unchecked bruxism can cause.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs. For example, we provide custom-made mouth guards for bruxism, as well as sports mouth guards to protect teeth during athletic activities.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.