Do you ever wake up from a night’s sleep with sore teeth and jaws? It’s possible you could grinding your teeth in your sleep, and not even know it. Grinding your teeth is known as bruxism. This rhythmic clenching of the jaws and grinding of the teeth may develop at any age. Teeth grinding is usually done unconsciously in your sleep, but it can also occur when you are awake. During the day, a person who is concentrating on a task will often place his teeth together and apply force through a contraction of the jaw muscles. This is commonly associated with the daytime tasks of lifting heavy objects, driving, reading and writing. During sleep, it presents as clenching and rhythmic contractions. We take a look at what bruxism is and what can be done to control it.

What are symptoms of bruxism?

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 telltale symptom of bruxism. People who grind their teeth are three times more likely to suffer from headaches.Other symptoms include muscle aches, enlargement of facial muscles, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) discomfort, stiffness of the shoulders and neck, ear pain and sleep disorders. Many times, 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.

How is bruxism 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. When these events happen, bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, partial dentures, and even complete dentures may be needed. Not only can severe grinding damage teeth and result in tooth loss, it can also affect your jaws, cause or worsen TMD/TMJ, and even change the appearance of your face.

What causes bruxism?

Stress, anxiety, smoking, heavy alcohol, caffeine, depression and sleep disorders have all been discussed as possible causes of teeth grinding. There is, however, little evidence to directly support any cause. Teeth grinding most often occurs at night. Although it is often linked to stress, bruxism can be caused by sleep disorders or by mechanical problems with the teeth, such as missing or broken teeth or a misaligned bite. In some cases, teeth grinding isn’t due to stress or poor tooth alignment but can be a side effect of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Certain types of psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, also can trigger bruxism. Research has shown that bruxism is found more frequently in people who snore or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and in people whose lifestyle includes smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine. It has been found that 70 percent of people clench and grind their teeth as a result of stress and anxiety. Some research has shown a possible link between teeth grinding and a stressful work environment.

What can I do to stop grinding my teeth?

Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding during sleep.These are custom made, specially fitted plastic mouth pieces that fit over your top or bottom teeth. Wearing one of these appliances will reduce jaw muscle pain and protect both your teeth and temporomandibular joint. The appliances are usually worn at bedtime and are considered the treatment of choice.If stress is causing you to grind your teeth, ask your doctor or dentist about options to reduce your stress. It is important to have your dentist evaluate you with a comprehensive exam and develop a treatment plan that is specialized for you.Attending stress counseling, 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. If a sleeping disorder is causing the grinding, treating it may reduce or eliminate the grinding habit. Other tips to help you stop teeth grinding include:

  • 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.

Putting an end to the clenching or grinding of your teeth requires an evaluation by your dentist or by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. After an exam, a treatment plan can be implemented. It may include an occlusal appliance and, possibly, behavioral modification methods.

If you have any questions about bruxism, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.