Have you ever woken up with a sore jaw, a headache you couldn’t explain, and/or felt an uncontrollable urge to clench your teeth? You might be experiencing bruxism – more commonly known as tooth grinding – and if you’re not regularly visiting your dentist, you might not even realize you have this condition until it becomes serious.
“Bruxism” doesn’t refer to a single specific disease – it’s just the medical term for the habit of unconsciously grinding one’s teeth. Bruxism may occur nocturnally, i.e. while someone is sleeping, or diurnally (during waking hours), but both types can cause long-term damage to your teeth and jaw. These movements can involve repeatedly clenching your jaw and resemble chewing, albeit more forcefully. Bruxing isn’t necessarily a continuous action, either. It’s most commonly characterized by “episodes” of clenching and grinding that occur throughout the day or night, and their frequency can be inconsistent.
Teeth grinding can rarely be attributed to one single cause, but some common contributing factors for adults include professional stress; anxiety; and heavy alcohol, caffeine, and/or nicotine consumption. Lifestyle changes, such as a disruption of normal sleeping habits, are also associated with increased teeth grinding. However, bruxism in children can also be symptomatic of other dental problems, such as allergies, misaligned teeth, or an injury in the mouth.
Sleep bruxism can also be correlated with heavy snoring and sleep apnea, a condition in which the intermittent relaxation of your throat muscles blocks your airways and causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing during sleep. Genetics might also play a role – according to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as half of the people who experience sleep bruxism also have a close family member who shares the condition.
In the short term, bruxism can cause irritatingly persistent headaches, toothaches, and soreness in your jaw and neck. In the long term, the wear caused by extensive clenching and grinding can loosen, chip, and even fracture your existing teeth by weakening the enamel. The pressure of constant grinding can also damage dental restorations such as crowns, fillings, and implants – causing complications that are potentially expensive as well as inconvenient to correct.
Bruxism can also increase the risk of problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the joint connecting the skull and lower jaw, which can provoke chronic jaw pain, the feeling of a “locked” jaw, and difficulty chewing.
Since bruxing can be erratic, you might not even realize you’re doing it unless a family member, friend, or sleeping partner who notices the habit brings it to your attention.
Common symptoms of bruxism include:
According to the National Sleep Foundation, nocturnal bruxism affects anywhere from 6% to 50% of children, around 15% of adolescents, and around 8% of middle-aged adults. Sometimes treatment isn’t necessary – many children will simply outgrow the habit, and in adolescence or adulthood it might subside alongside stress relief. However, if the frequency and severity of bruxism is affecting your quality of life, don’t hesitate to call Dentist of Torrance so we can help determine what treatment options are right for you.
Since everyone’s dental concerns are unique, there is no singular “cure” for bruxism – however, that’s no reason to worry! Your bruxism treatment will depend on the root cause, frequency, and severity of the grinding. In some cases, therapeutic approaches such as stress/anxiety management and biofeedback (a technique that uses monitoring equipment to help a patient gain greater awareness and eventual control over their physiological functions) might be sufficient to stop bruxism.
If your bruxism is correlated with stress – for instance, a particularly grueling academic or professional workload — then the habit might also subside with the development of healthy coping mechanisms. Teeth grinding often feels like a natural outlet for relieving tension and nervous energy, but it’s also common in people experiencing chronic fatigue and exhaustion (both physical and mental).
At Dentist of Torrance, we aim to ensure our patients are informed about all their potential treatment options. While our oral appliances can mitigate the discomfort of grinding and enforce the physical separation of the teeth, consider consulting your doctor if you have additional concerns about the root causes of your bruxism.
Self-care and stress relief are as crucial to your oral health as they are to your mental health! There are plenty of good habits you can adopt to help protect your teeth from bruxism, such as the following:
Are you ready to defeat teeth grinding for good? Dentist of Torrance provides non-surgical treatment options that place a greater focus on preventing further abrasion and/or correcting existing damage to the teeth. These might include orthotic devices (such as mouthguards or splints) designed to keep teeth separated from each other, which are custom-modeled based on impressions of an individual patient’s mouth. The soft, malleable material of a mouth guard is molded to the unique shape of your own jaw and can additionally help soothe the inflammation and pain caused by clenching.
In cases where bruxism has already eroded the tooth enamel, your dentist might use bonding or porcelain veneers to repair the surface. Serious damage might require more extensive restorations such as a crown or bridge.
Whether you’re trying to defeat a habit of stress-induced night grinding or seeking a mouth guard for your child, we’ll help you find the right solution to keep your smile stress-free. Contact our office at (310) 651-7660 to learn more about all the bruxism treatment options we offer at Dentist of Torrance.
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