Most people may clench or grind their teeth sometimes. But teeth grinding may occur unconsciously and excessively at occasional times or on regular basis. This condition is called bruxism. It can damage teeth and cause a number of oral and dental health complications. In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms, the possible causes, and how bruxism can be reduced or treated.
What is Bruxism (teeth grinding)?
Bruxism or teeth grinding is involuntary grinding, clenching, or gnashing of the teeth. It can be a reaction to stress, fear, or anger. Often teeth grinding happens repeatedly during sleep, which is known as sleep bruxism, but some people may grind their teeth while awake during the day.
What are the symptoms of bruxism?
Because teeth grinding often occurs while you are sleeping, it may go unnoticed for most people. Over time, if you wake up, you can notice the symptoms that can tell you are grinding your teeth at night.
Here are the signs and symptoms:
- Teeth grinding or clenching during sleep which occurs with greater force, ranging from a few 1-second episodes to a number of times per night. Unless told by your family member or partner, you may even not realize you have it.
- Teeth that are flattened, chipped, cracked, or loose
- Tooth enamel is worn out and abraded leaving the underlying tooth structure exposed
- Overly sensitive teeth
- Jaw and neck pain
- Tense and tight feeling in the jaw muscles. It may cause locking of the jaw and make problems with the complete opening or closing of the mouth.
- Damage to the soft tissues in your mouth like inside of the cheeks
Why do I grind my teeth at night?
It is not always clear what causes people to grind their teeth. There can be multiple factors or causes for bruxism or teeth grinding.
Here are the main factors that increase the risk of bruxism in a person:
- Stress. One of the most possible risks for teeth grinding is high stress level. So, if you have a stressful life or you are faced with difficult situations, you may experience clenching your teeth and jaws. Also, people with sleep bruxism can link their teeth grinding to high anxiety levels.
- Young age. Bruxism in young children is common. The habit may go away into adulthood, as they grow up. According to one study, the increasing level of sugar consumption and screen-time (TV or other electronic devices) will increase the frequency of sleep bruxism in children.
- Bruxism in family members. Sleep bruxism has genetic connections, so it can run in families. If you have a family member with sleep bruxism, you are more likely to inherit that from them.
- Lifestyle and eating habits. Alcohol consumption, smoking tobacco, and having a high intake of caffeine such as coffee, colas, or chocolate are common habits that can increase the risk of bruxism.
- Other health conditions. Sleep-related disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes sleep interruptions by lapses in breathing, are connected to bruxism. There are other mental health conditions and medical disorders that are associated with teeth grinding. This includes attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), night terrors, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, dementia, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).
- Medications. Although it is not very common, sleep bruxism may be a potential side effect of some medications. Antidepressants and antipsychotics are common medications that are associated with bruxism. Also, people who use recreational drugs can increase the teeth-grinding risk.
What are the treatments for bruxism?
In most cases, many adults don’t grind or clench their teeth severely enough to require therapy or other treatments. So, they may not need treatment at all. Also, if you have a child with bruxism, they will outgrow it.
There is no treatment to completely cure bruxism. However, there are some approaches which help either reduce teeth-grinding episodes or prevent and treat the damage to the teeth and jaw.
Treatment for bruxism includes the following based on age, your medical condition, and other factors:
Stress or anxiety reduction
If your teeth grinding is the result of stress or anxiety, you can help manage your stress or reduce its effects.
Find out which relaxation techniques such as meditation can decrease your stress or anxiety. Seek advice from a therapist or a counselor. Additionally, you can benefit from a good night sleep once you talk to a psychologist or an insomnia therapist.
Grinding teeth is a common cause of cracked tooth. Therefore, in order to protect and prevent further damage to your teeth, your dentist can recommend mouthguards or dental splints.
Your dentist will make you a custom-sized mouthguard or split which provide greater comfort and fit. Depending on your needs, mouthguards and splints can be made of hard acrylic or soft materials. While a mouthguard, also called night guards, is fitted over your teeth, splints may cover some part of your teeth or the whole upper and lower teeth.
Wearing mouthguards and splints will help stabilize the teeth and mouth in the desired position. So apart from preventing the harmful grinding impacts on teeth and mouth, these mouthpieces can help guide jaw movements, tone jaw muscles, and manage sleep-related conditions such as sleep apnea or chronic snoring.
In severe cases, if bruxism has already led to the cracking, flattening of the teeth, chipping, or other dental injuries, your dentist will need to reshape and restore the damaged tooth or teeth.
Therefore, your dentist may recommend crowns, dental implants, composite bonding, or veneers depending on the damage. These are dental treatments to bring back the normal function and chewing to the tooth as well as prevent tooth pain or sensitivity.
In the long term, medications usually are not effective for the treatment of bruxism. There is more research still needed whether they are helpful.
However, medications are effective in some ways. Some of them work by regulating neurotransmitters to help reduce muscle activity that are causing the teeth grinding. Others such as Botox injections have successfully been used for decreasing the jaw and facial muscle movements in more severe sleep bruxism cases.
Common medications for bruxism include:
- Stress and anxiety medications. For short-term use, your doctor may prescribe some medications like anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants to help you deal with stress and other mental or emotional problems.
- Botox injections. Injection of botulinum toxin, or Botax, can paralyze and limit muscle activity that are involved in your teeth grinding and help stop sleep bruxism. Like most cosmetic procedures, Botox can be expensive and require regular injections in the long run.
- Muscle relaxants. Your doctor or TMJ specialist can prescribe muscle relaxants to take for short-term period. They are a common medication for TMJ disorders. Muscle relaxants have a temporary effect on jaw muscle activity which can decrease muscle spasm and effectively relieve the pain in the jaw area.
- Natural medications. If you don’t like to take medications to treat your bruxism, make sure to incorporate the recommended various sources of minerals and vitamins into your daily diet. One of these natural minerals is magnesium, which helps to take comfort and get optimal bodily function. You can find it in leafy greens and a whole foods diet.
- Treatment for underlying conditions. Once determined that your underlying condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD or sleep apnea, is responsible for your teeth grinding, your doctor will take the necessary steps to treat it.