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The 411 on Bruxism

They say that a person’s smile can light up a room, but can the same be said if your teeth are worn down to stumps? Not an attractive sight, is it? In a previous blog, we briefly touched upon bruxism or teeth grinding. Today we’re going to discuss this more in detail.

Definition

Bruxism is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a condition in which you grind, gnash or clench your teeth.” There are two kinds of bruxism: awake bruxism or when you gnash your teeth when you are awake; or sleep bruxism, wherein you grind them while you are asleep.

For this reason, bruxism can also be considered as a sleep-related movement disorder. Those who grind their teeth while they are sleeping may also be suffering from other sleep disorders.

Overall, mild cases of bruxism do not require treatment. However, in some cases, the bruxism can become quite advanced, so much so that they would lead to lasting dental problems. Jaw disorders, damaged teeth, and chronic headaches are just some of the common consequences of the condition.

Causes

There are a number of reasons people grind their teeth during sleep. They are commonly broken down into:

  • Medication – Certain medications trigger teeth grinding at night. An example of this is an antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. This medication has been associated with teeth grinding in the past.
  • Sleep disorders – It is believed that certain sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can cause teeth grinding at night. It is also associated with arousals during sleep, such as dreaming about eating. You are also likely to grind your jaw if you do the following: talk or mumble during sleep; trash out, punch out, or behave violently while speaking; experience hallucinations while conscious, and have sleep paralysis.
  • Mental triggers – Meanwhile, many believe that teeth grinding is caused stress and anxiety. It is also thought to be a coping strategy, a defense mechanism, a habit during deep concentration, or a way people express frustration, anger, or tension.
  • Lifestyle factors – There are also a number of lifestyle factors that can aggravate teeth grinding. These factors are excessively drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs, excessive caffeine intake, and smoking.
  • Family history – Surprisingly, there is a familial link with bruxism. If someone in your family grinds their teeth while sleeping, or had a history of it, then you should pay closer attention if you are grinding your teeth at night. It tends to run in families.
  • Personality type – Lastly, there are certain personality types that are associated with bruxism. People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or those with aggressive, competitive personalities, are at an increased risk of getting the disease.

Whatever the case, teeth grinding does tend to go away on its own. However, if left untreated, it can have disastrous effects on your dental health.

Symptoms

Many people go to the doctor when they experience the telltale signs of bruxism. If you tend to wake up with a sore jaw or a dull, constant headache, then you may be grinding your teeth while you sleep. Symptoms commonly associated with bruxism are as follows:

  • Earache
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain and stiffness
  • Facial pain
  • Worn-down teeth
  • Broken teeth or fillings
  • Disrupted sleep

Essentially, bruxism can cause severe damage to your teeth, crowns, restorations, and jaw, trigger severe facial or jaw pain, as well as severe headaches, and cause temporomandibular joints (TMJ) problems. On the other hand, people are encouraged to go to their doctors if their teeth have worn down or are already too sensitive. If you are also told that you grind your teeth at night, take the warning at face value and consult your doctor before it worsens.

Evaluation

Thankfully, bruxism is a treatable condition. A dentist will typically assess the condition of your mouth and see if the bruxism has progressed. Then, the following may normally happen:

  • You will be asked to return after a few weeks to see how your teeth have progressed.
  • Your dentist will determine the cause of your bruxism so that it can be treated properly.
  • Your dentist will check your teeth for evident dental abnormalities, such as tenderness in your muscles, broken or missing teeth, and other damage to the teeth.

If the bruxism seems to be related to a sleep disorder, then you may be referred to a sleep medicine specialist. If it is caused by psychological concerns such as stress, then you may be referred to a counselor or a psychiatrist.

Treatment

Once you find out what causes your bruxism, you may then set about to treating it. It can be treated by the following methods:

  • Splints and mouth guards – These dental appliances will protect your teeth while you sleep. They are especially helpful when you are suffering from sleep bruxism, as you can then rest easy knowing that you are not grinding your teeth to a pulp. Splints and mouth guards are usually made of soft materials or hard acrylic and are placed over your upper and lower teeth.
  • Dental correction – Once the bruxism has been addressed, then it is time to correct the damage it has caused. Dentists do this by applying dental correction, such as reshaping your teeth or repairing them. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may even have teeth pulled out or you may be advised to use crowns, implants, and even dentures.
  • Botox injections – While it may come as a surprise, Botox injections are also used to treat severe forms of bruxism, particularly if the patient does not respond to other treatments. Botox relaxes the muscles by paralyzing it temporarily, thereby limiting your movement. If the movement is limited, then so would be the damage.   

Overall, teeth grinding can fracture, loosen up, or result to teeth loss. However, it is a condition that is easily treated, particularly if the underlying cause is determined early on. By wearing dental appliances that protect the teeth while you sleep, you can then work on figuring out how to address the problem.