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Bruxism (Teeth Grinding) - Separating Fact from Fiction

woman holding her jaw in painMost people probably grind and clench their teeth from time to time. Occasional teeth grinding, medically called bruxism, does not usually cause harm, but when teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis the teeth can be damaged and other oral health complications can arise.

Why Do People Grind?

Although teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, it often occurs during sleep and is more likely caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth. It can also be caused by a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.

How Do I Find Out if I Grind My Teeth?

Because grinding often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. However, a dull, constant headache or sore jaw when you wake up is a tell-tale symptom of bruxism. Often people learn that they grind their teeth by their loved one who hears the grinding at night.

If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist. He or she can examine your mouth and jaw for signs of bruxism, such as jaw tenderness and excessive wear on your teeth. These are some of the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding:

  • grinding sounds while the person is asleep
  • headache, jaw joint and/or ear pain
  • aching teeth, particularly just after waking up
  • aching and/or stiffness of the face and temples just after waking up
  • aching or stiffness in the jaws while chewing, particularly during breakfast
  • clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating
  • temperature-sensitive teeth
  • cracked or chipped tooth enamel
  • tooth indentations on the tongue
  • raised tissue on the inside of the cheek caused by biting
  • loose teeth

Why Is Teeth Grinding Harmful?

In some cases, chronic teeth grinding can result in a fracturing, loosening, or loss of teeth. The chronic grinding may wear teeth down to stumps. It can cause strain on the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint), sometimes causing pain or limited movement. Teeth also tend to be more sensitive to hot and cold things.
When these events happen, bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, partial dentures, and even complete dentures may be needed.

Treatment for Teeth Grinding

If you think you grind your teeth, speak with your dentist or other oral health professional. They will look at your teeth and talk about possible treatment options that may include:

  • repair of tooth damage
  • a special mouthguard (‘bite splint’) to wear at night so that the guard is worn down instead of your teeth. In most cases, a bite splint will only help with the symptoms and will not stop you from grinding altogether.

Strategies that can Reduce Teeth Grinding

Wear a Night Guard. Your dentist can custom fit you for a night guard, which is an appliance that fits over your top teeth, is made from plastic or acrylic, and is worn while you sleep. Though it won’t stop you from grinding, it protects your teeth.

If a sleeping disorder is causing the grinding, treating it may reduce or eliminate the grinding habit.

If stress is causing you to grind your teeth, ask your doctor or dentist about options to reduce your stress. Attending stress counselling, starting an exercise program, seeing a physical therapist, or obtaining a prescription for muscle relaxants are among some of the options that may be offered.

Seek Help. If you suffer from severe anxiety, talk therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist may help alleviate that, which in turn will reduce grinding.

Exercise. Whether you opt for a major sweat session or just a stroll, working out helps alleviate stress, which is a common cause of bruxism.

Take a Warm Bath Before Bed. Warm water can help relax your jaw muscles right before you turn in. If you don’t like baths, soak a washcloth in warm water, wring it out, and apply it to your jaw. A heating pad can also do the trick, though moist heat is best because it penetrates better.

Relax. Since anxiety is a major force behind grinding, try to unwind and relieve stress just before bedtime. Hitting the hay when you’re calm can reduce grinding.

Learn New Habits. It is possible to grind or clench during the day. So, try to be aware of your mouth—keep your lips closed but teeth apart. Teeth should only touch when you’re chewing or swallowing. Whenever you feel your jaw clenching, drop your jaw down, feel the muscles relax, and then try to maintain that position.

Give Yourself a Massage. A rubdown helps the rest of your body relax, and it works the same way for your jaw muscles—gently rub them when you’re feeling tense.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine. Grinding may get worse after drinking alcohol or caffeine. So, skip that glass of wine or cup of coffee in the evening.

Don’t Chew Anything Besides Food. Gnawing on pens or pencils or similarly hard items can enable your jaw muscles to get used to clenching, making you more likely to grind your teeth.

Skip Chewy Foods. Keep gum, steak, popcorn, and other chewy foods to a minimum when you’ve been grinding your teeth. This will ease soreness and give your jaw a break.

Other Medical Conditions:

Certain medications, like some antidepressants, or disorders like Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, can cause bruxism. Even having too much stomach acid reflux or suffering from sleep apnoea can lead to night-time grinding. Dental issues: Perhaps your teeth don’t line up correctly or you have teeth that are missing or crooked. The misalignment, which is also known as bad occlusion, means that the teeth don’t meet correctly when the jaw opens and closes. This could be due to an issue with the temporomandibular joint or the muscles around the jaw. For example, if those facial muscles spasm during sleep, you could start grinding your teeth.

Some drugs like cocaine can cause grinding.

Do Children Grind Their Teeth?

The problem of teeth grinding is not limited to adults. Approximately 15% to 33% of children grind their teeth. 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.

Most commonly, children grind their teeth during sleep rather than during waking hours. No one knows exactly why children grind their teeth, but considerations include improperly aligned teeth or irregular contact between upper and lower teeth, illnesses and other medical conditions (such as nutritional deficiencies, pinworm, allergies, endocrine disorders), and psychological factors including anxiety and stress.

Grinding of the baby teeth rarely results in problems. However, teeth grinding can cause jaw pain, headaches, wear on the teeth, and TMD. Consult your dentist if your child’s teeth look worn or if your child complains of tooth sensitivity or pain.

Specific tips to help a child stop grinding his or her teeth include:

  • Decrease your child’s stress, especially just before bed.
  • Try massage and stretching exercises to relax the muscles.
  • Make sure your child’s diet includes plenty of water. Dehydration may be linked to teeth grinding.
  • Ask your dentist to monitor your child’s teeth if he or she is a grinder.

No intervention is usually required with preschool-age children. However, older children may need temporary crowns or other methods, such as a nightguard, to prevent the grinding.

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