Do you ever find yourself grinding, gnashing, or clenching your teeth? It’s not uncommon; in fact, 8%-31% of the population does it too. Some various symptoms and concerns come along with bruxism that can cause both short-term and long-term health effects on dental health. Learning more about this parafunctional activity can help you recognize and address the issue before irreparable damage occurs. Speaking with your dentist about bruxism can potentially preserve the longevity of your natural teeth without the need for expensive dental restoration procedures.
Do I have bruxism?
About 25 million Americans have symptoms of bruxism, from grinding their teeth to clenching their jaw, both occurring while awake or asleep. That’s what makes this condition particularly harmful for oral health since most people are doing it subconsciously when they’re not awake and may be unaware of it. However, most people eventually begin to see and feel the effects of bruxism, especially if they see a dentist regularly. Dentists often see signs even before they become apparent to patients, and can step in to help mitigate the damage before it becomes more severe.
- Grinding or clenching of teeth
- Flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
- Teeth that feel loose
- Worn down tooth enamel
- Tooth pain and sensitivity
- Jaw, neck, or face pain
- Frequent headaches
- Dull ear pain
- Disturbed sleep
- Wounds to inner-cheek tissues
This condition is usually separated into two types: awake and sleep bruxism. With both cases, there are typically psychological, physical, and genetic factors at play. People who have awake bruxism often deal with anxiety, stress, mood instability, and tension. It can also be a concentration mechanism. Those with sleep bruxism often “sleep chew” as an activity associated with arousals during sleep.
Common Risk Factors
Bruxism presents itself differently in everyone, but certain factors can increase the risk.
- Stress and increased anxiety
- Age, mostly occurring in young children
- Medications or substances that can increase stimulation-seeking behaviors
- Genetics, as it often runs in the family
- Chronic disorders such as Parkinson’s, dementia, ADHD, and sleep apnea
I think I have Bruxism. What Now?
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the dentist, now is a great time to make a future appointment. They will be able to see the signs of bruxism fairly quickly, along with asking you about your general health, any medications, and daily sleep habits. The most important parts of the exam will be taking x-rays to determine underlying bone and tooth damage, checking jaw muscles, and looking for noticeable tooth abnormalities like cracked or missing teeth.
If you visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and have a concern, it’s essential to speak to them during the short examination during your checkup. Sometimes those who exhibit bruxism by clenching don’t show obvious signs, and will instead have more prominent issues with TMJ, ear pain, or headaches instead of physical damage to teeth. Make sure to pay attention to patterns so you can retell them to your dentist in order to determine the cause of bruxism and when it’s most apparent.
Because of the different ways, bruxism manifests itself in people. It’s treated in a multitude of ways. Usually, it’s most prominent in small children, and treatment isn’t needed as they will soon grow out of the behavior. Most adults don’t often grind or clench their teeth enough to cause severe damage, but there are cases where prolonged sleep bruxism can cause problems. Usually, the therapies needed to treat this condition are a combination of physical treatments, devices, and sometimes medications.
- Mouthguards: professionally made mouth guards can greatly alleviate clenching and grinding issues in patients. Unlike over-the-counter mouth guards, those made by a dental professional are custom fitted to the teeth and mouth. This allows for greater comfort, which also means patients are more likely to wear them every night.
- Ortho referral: In some instances, there is a misalignment of teeth, usually underbite, that causes grinding, clashing or clenching. This sometimes requires jaw surgery or orthodontic devices like braces to correct the issue.
- Dental correction: If wear and tear from bruxism aren’t addressed immediately and are left to continue for long periods, there is often damage to teeth that needs to be repaired with implants, crowns, and even sometimes dentures due to damage.
- Psychotherapy: Grinding and clenching of teeth can be a sign of stress, tension, anxiety, and more. Learning to channel those feelings through other methods that promote relaxation can help immensely through a licensed psychotherapist.
- Behavior management: Specialized therapists that can help patients learn to adjust and hold their jaw in alignment for optimum positioning. This line of therapy is often close to speech therapy or tongue posture exercising and can be recommended by a dentist or dental professional.
- Biofeedback: A relatively new technological innovation using apps to track and monitor clenching or grinding behavior that affects sleep bruxism most specifically can help people recognize, learn, and alter their actions.
- Medication: Some people who exhibit bruxism also suffer from other issues that may need treatment from medication such as GERD, sleep apnea, or side-effects caused by other medicines.
Bruxism is a complex but common condition that can affect people of all ages, from early childhood until late adulthood. Many factors can lead to the development of bruxism, and the only real way to address it is to seek advice from a dental professional to understand the root of the cause. While the grinding and clenching of teeth may seem inconsequential, there could be significant consequences if left untreated.
If you think you may have bruxism or are exhibiting symptoms of teeth clenching or grinding, contact your dentist to speak with them directly. A basic checkup examination will help to uncover possible causes and damage of bruxism if it’s present, and your dentist will be able to offer you the best solutions. The best course of treatment of any condition like bruxism is the prevention of potential damage, so don’t hesitate to contact your dentist about any symptoms or worries you may have.