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Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)


Bruxism, or teeth grinding as it’s commonly referred to, is the act of consciously or unconsciously grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. Teeth grinding can happen during the day or at night and is considered both a medical and dental problem since it affects the teeth and surrounding structures within the head. Most people experience teeth grinding while they sleep, and bruxism can affect anyone at any age.

Bruxism can be mild or severe. If it’s mild, treatment is usually not necessary. However, if it’s frequent and severe it can lead to other issues such as jaw disorders, headaches, broken teeth and more. Because most people are unaware its happening while they sleep, knowing the signs and symptoms is important.

Teeth Grinding Symptoms

Below is a list of the common signs and symptoms of teeth grinding, including:

  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Grinding that may be loud enough to wake you while sleeping
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Chewed inner cheek tissue
  • Teeth increasingly wear down, flatten or fracture
  • Earaches
  • Swollen jaw muscles
  • Jaw pain or tightness
  • Tooth indents on your tongue
  • Anxiety, stress, tension
  • Insomnia
  • Eating disorders
  • Complaints from others

What Causes Teeth Grinding?

If you want to know what causes bruxism, you may want to choose who you ask. Medical doctors will tell you it’s due to stress, while dentists believe it’s due to unaligned teeth. Below is a list of possible reasons based on both professional opinions. Teeth grinding causes include:

  • Anxiety, stress or tension
  • Changes in sleep cycles
  • Malocclusion (unaligned upper and lower teeth)
  • Other medical condition (such as Parkinson’s Disease)
  • Side effect from medication
  • Drugs (such as methamphetamines that lead to Meth Mouth)
  • Growth and development of the teeth and jaw (mainly in children)
  • Response to pain from an earache (or teething in children)
  • Aggressive personality

Many people believe bruxism is a reflex chewing activity when actually it’s a habit. Generally, reflex activities happen when responding to a stimulus, without involvement of subconscious brain activity, and bruxism does not. While were sleeping our subconscious becomes active, while the higher control in our brains are inactive (because you’re sleeping). This results in bruxism, or teeth grinding.

Bruxism in children is also something to watch for. Studies have been done, but like with adults there has been no real conclusion. Many people believe children that are suffering from bruxism are stressed out, have a change in lifestyle (such as a new teachers/schools or parents divorcing) or have other nervous tendencies. However, children also suffer from teeth grinding symptoms because of minor issues such as teeth development or unaligned upper and lower jaws that can be fixed by a dentist. Statistically, most children out grow teeth grinding habits.

Teeth Grinding Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for bruxism, only treatments. On the other hand, in many cases treatment is not necessary. However, if the problem is severe treatments can include:

Teeth Grinding Mouth Guards - You can find these in your local store or you can have one custom made by your dentist. Mouth guards are the least expensive treatment for bruxism.

Splints - Splints are either made at the dentist office or dental impressions may be sent to a dental lab to be made. They are more expensive than mouth guards, but they are made from acrylic and fit over your upper or lower teeth.

Stress Management – If the bruxism is due to stress, recommendations may include seeking professional counseling, or strategies that promote relaxation such as meditation or yoga. If it’s a child, you may want to talk with them about their fears before bedtime.

Dental Work – If it’s due to an unaligned jaw or teeth, your dentist may recommend overlays or crowns. However, dental care may not stop the bruxism from happening.

Biofeedback - This therapy uses various monitoring procedures and equipment to teach you how to control your involuntary body responses. Electrical sensors are attached to different parts of your body that correspond with your body’s reaction to stress. Visual cues are used to determine which stresses are causing the bruxism.

Medication - Unfortunately there aren’t too many medications that are proven to help bruxism. However, some doctors recommend muscle relaxers before bed time, while others change medication that is causing bruxism as a side effect (such as antidepressants.)

Botox - Though it’s less common than the other types of treatment, botox is said to work for people who are not responding to other forms of treatment and have bruxism severely.

Page updated February 2011



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