Habitual teeth grinding, aka bruxism, wears down teeth over time and greatly increases your risk of damaged teeth and gums. Sleep bruxism is more common than awake bruxism, but often goes unnoticed unless alerted by a partner. If you think you may have bruxism, the first step is to visit the dentist for a proper diagnosis, as well as prevention and treatment options.
How is Bruxism Diagnosed?
During a dental exam, one of the many things your dentist checks for is signs of abnormal wear on your teeth. Flattened teeth are one of the most common signs of bruxism, caused by excessive grinding of the teeth against one another.
Other signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
Cracked, chipped or loose teeth
Worn tooth enamel
Overly sensitive teeth
Tense facial or jaw muscles
Frequent headaches, jaw aches or neck aches
Locking of the jaw
Popping or clicking of the jaw
Damage to the inside of the cheek
Stiffness of the jaw, resulting in difficulty eating or speaking
Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
Many of the signs and symptoms of bruxism can look like other health issues or conditions, so it is very important to let your dentist know if you think you may be grinding your teeth.
If your dentist knows that you may have bruxism, they can focus their examination of your teeth, mouth and jaw for specific signs of bruxism, and ask additional questions about your experiences and lifestyle. Some questions may include whether or not a partner has ever woken up due to the noise of grinding teeth, and whether or not you often wake up with a sore or tight jaw or facial muscles. Make sure to let your dentist know if you are experiencing chronic discomfort, tension or pain in your jaw or head, since those issues cannot be seen.
How to Prevent Bruxism & Treatment
There are many potential causes of bruxism, including: anxiety, stress, certain medications, certain health conditions, sleep disorders and more. Depending on the cause of bruxism, prevention and treatment methods of bruxism may include:
• Mouth guards, particularly for those who suffer from sleep bruxism. Your dentist can fit you for a custom made night guard, or you can try an over the counter mouth guard. Be aware that sports mouth guards are made of different materials and designed for different purposes compared to night mouth guards, so we do not recommend using a sports guard for teeth grinding, or a night guard for sports protection.
• Behavior changes. Bruxism can sometimes be prevented simply by practicing proper mouth and jaw positions and exercises; ask your dentist for tips.
• Lifestyle changes. Sometimes, bruxism is simply caused by lifestyle habits like excessive caffeine intake or smoking. If this is the case, reduce the amount of caffeine you have and quit smoking!
• Stress or anxiety management. If your bruxism is due to stress, learning how to manage your stress and anxiety can help prevent bruxism. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as meditation can help, as can regular light exercise, breathing exercises, talking with a licensed therapist or counselor, or medication to alleviate anxiety disorders.
• Botox injections into the masseter muscle (the large muscle that moves the jaw) can help people with severe bruxism who do not respond to other types of treatment. It works by weakening and relaxing the muscle enough so that the jaw can no longer forcefully grind or clench, which in turn significantly reduces the amount of wear and tear on teeth.
• Dental restorations. If excessive tooth wear due to bruxism has caused extreme sensitivity or the inability to chew properly, your dentist may recommend a dental restoration to restore the strength and functionality of your teeth, such as dental bonding, veneers or crowns.
• Treating underlying health conditions. Bruxism can sometimes be caused by a different medical or health issue, such as a sleep disorder (like sleep apnea), side effects of certain medications, or conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In these cases, addressing the underlying condition may improve bruxism.
Chronic teeth grinding isn’t something that most people think about often, but bruxism can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Eliminating bruxism can improve your oral health, improve your quality and quantity of sleep, reduce chronic head, neck or jaw aches, help you speak and eat easier, and much more.
If you think you may have bruxism, please feel free to ask us about it during your next appointment! We will be sure to carefully inspect your teeth and gums for any signs of bruxism, and can discuss practical methods and treatment options to help you get back to a healthier and more comfortable daily routine.
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