Bruxism is the medical term to describe the act of clenching, grinding or gnashing teeth, while awake or asleep. While mild teeth grinding may not warrant treatment, frequent or serious grinding should be treated as soon as possible to prevent permanent mouth, jaw or tooth damage.
What is teeth grinding?
When a person does not chew, they grind or clench their teeth, which is known as bruxism. It usually happens during sleep, but it can also happen during the day. Normally, a person is unconscious of what they are doing.
Teeth grinding or (teeth clenching) is defined by a chewing motion in which the teeth rub against one another. Clenching is when a person clenches their muscles and holds their teeth together without moving their teeth back and forth.
Signs of sleep bruxism
Sleep bruxism is a type of sleep disorder. The symptoms of sleep bruxism that people may notice when awake include:
- facial pain
- jaw pain and stiffness
- clicking, popping, or grinding noises when moving the jaw
- a dull headache
- sensitive, loose, or broken teeth
- worn teeth
- broken or loose fillings
Ear pain can also occur because the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) — the joint that allows the jaw to open and close — is so close to the ear. People may also experience referred pain, which occurs when pain is felt in a location other than its source.
Although people who have teeth grinding during sleep may not be aware that they are clenching or grinding their teeth, those who sleep nearby may be able to hear the noise.
Awake bruxism is different from sleep bruxism, as it is not a sleep disorder. Instead, it is an unconscious habit.
Awake bruxism does not always result in teeth grinding. People are more likely to clench their teeth or tense the muscles around their jaw instead. Awake bruxism also causes jaw ache, dull headaches, and stiffness. In cases where there is no grinding, the condition may not wear the teeth as much.
Awake bruxism, like sleep bruxism, occurs involuntarily. People may notice that they are more prone to it when concentrating or when they are stressed.
What causes teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding does not always have a single or identifiable cause, but it is associated with a number of factors. These variables differ depending on the type of bruxism.
Primary bruxism occurs on its own and does not result from another condition. Some of the known factors that contribute to it include:
- Growing teeth: Teeth grinding is very common in young children, especially when their teeth are growing. However, because the teeth and jaw develop rapidly during childhood, bruxism usually resolves on its own without causing long-term damage.
- Misaligned bite: Teeth grindingcan occur in some people because their bite is misaligned or they have missing teeth. Mouth irritation may also contribute to grinding or clenching.
- Stress: Stress is a major cause of teeth grindingin adults, whether it occurs while sleeping or awake. A study discovered a link between stress and bruxism, but more research is needed to fully understand the relationship.
- Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine: A 2016 review of previous research discovered that these substances were also linked to bruxism. People who smoked or drank alcohol on a regular basis were about twice as likely to have teeth grinding as those who drank more than 8 cups of coffee per day.
Secondary bruxism occurs as a result of another medical condition or circumstance, such as:
- Mental health conditions: Teeth grindingis linked to anxiety and depression. This link could be due in part to stress, which can exacerbate these conditions.
- Neurological conditions: Movement during sleep can be caused by conditions such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, which can lead to this.
- Medications: Teeth grinding can be a side effect of certain medications, including some antidepressants and antipsychotics.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition that causes breathing to stop temporarily during sleep. It can reduce sleep quality and cause frequent arousals, which may be why it is a risk factor for bruxism. By disturbing sleep, sleep apnea may promote teeth grinding or clenching.
What are the long-term effects of teeth grinding?
Long-term effects of teeth grinding can be:
- tooth sensitivity, due to enamel wearing away
- gum inflammation or bleeding
- loose teeth
- damage to dental work, such as crowns and fillings
- flattened or short teeth
- tooth fractures
- TMJ syndrome, which causes pain, tension, and difficulty chewing
A dentist can diagnose bruxism by performing a dental examination. They may notice:
- worn tooth enamel
- flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
- loose or damaged crowns and fillings
- enlarged jaw muscles
Tooth wear can also result from overly vigorous brushing, abrasives in toothpaste, acidic soft drinks, and hard foods, but a trained professional can tell the difference between the characteristic wear patterns of each cause.
Treatment: Mouthguard or mouth splint
Various treatments and strategies may help with bruxism. One of them is using mouthguard or mouth splint
A dentist may advise you to wear a mouth splint or mouth guard while sleeping to protect your teeth from damage. These devices can help by distributing pressure evenly across the jaw, creating a physical barrier between the teeth, and reducing noise from teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding mouthguards are typically made of flexible rubber or plastic. A dentist can custom-make one for a person’s teeth, or they can purchase an over-the-counter (OTC) version. The over-the-counter versions may be less comfortable.
Mouth splints are typically made of tougher plastic and are designed to fit directly over the teeth. Some splints are designed to fit over the top teeth, while others are designed to fit over the bottom teeth. Depending on the design, a splint will either keep the jaw in a more relaxed position or act as a barrier, causing any damage to the splints rather than the teeth.
The use of a mouth guard offers 5 key benefits to you:
- Protect Your Teeth from Damage: A significant advantage of using a mouth guard. During the night, your teeth grind and clench, resulting in chipped teeth, damaged fillings, and excessive enamel wear. Maintain your confident smile while wearing a mouthguard comfortably.
- Limits Sleep Apnea and Snoring: Teeth clenching and grinding weaken your muscles, causing breathing difficulties and snoring as your air intake decreases. The mouthguard slightly widens the small gap between your jaws to allow more air in, making it easier to breathe and ensuring a restful night’s sleep.
- Reduce Headaches and Pain: Teeth clenching is characterized by Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) that cause headaches, jaw pain, earaches, muscle fatigue, and neck pain. Although it may come as a surprise, feedback from mouthguard users indicates that wearing them consistently immediately alleviates these concerns.
- Improved Sleep Patterns: Wearing a mouth guard can significantly improve your sleep patterns. Your jaws and facial positions are shaped to allow your muscles to relax, resulting in less stress, anxiety, a more comfortable night’s sleep, and better tooth protection.
- Less Tension on Your Joints and Muscles: Your dentist will mold and shape your mouthguard to fit your needs and reduce any stress on your jaws and muscles. The consequences of this type of pain are that you will struggle to move your jaw freely while eating or talking. Mouth guards are lightweight and comfortable to wear, and as you get used to them, they will become a natural tool to help you sleep.
It is not advisable to use generic mouthguards for sports, as they can be bulky and cause significant discomfort.
People with primary bruxism may be able to reduce or prevent the symptoms by practicing self-care. For example, they can try:
- avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine
- refraining from chewing gum, as this may increase wear and tear or encourage more grinding
- applying gentle heat to the jaw to relieve pain and tension
- reducing avoidable stress and taking steps to manage unavoidable stress
Stress can be caused by external events and circumstances, but it can also be caused by how people perceive those events. In either case, there are solutions.
Seeking help, making time for relaxation, and practicing mindfulness can all be beneficial. People may also want to try breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or other forms of relaxation.
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