Do you ever find yourself grinding or clenching your teeth? It’s a pretty common reaction to stress and anxiety, and whether consciously or not, most people have done it at some point in their lives. But when a person habitually and unconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth, it is a condition called bruxism.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the habitual teeth grinding or clenching of teeth, and can occur when you are awake (aka awake bruxism, or AB) or while sleeping (aka sleep bruxism, SB). An estimated 20% of adults have AB, and frequent SB occurs in about 13% of adults. Women are more likely than men to have AB, though no gender differences are noted for SB.
Sleep bruxism tends to be a good indicator of people who also have awake bruxism. SB is considered a sleep-movement disorder, and people who have SB often have other sleep disorders too, such as heavy snoring or sleep apnea. A number of studies have also found a strong link between bruxism and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) – which is an umbrella term for a group of over 30 conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the sliding jaw joint that connects our jaw to our skull.
What Causes Bruxism in Adults and Children?
Stress and anxiety are the main causes for bruxism in adults, but there are many potential causes for bruxism. Here are the most common causes of bruxism in adults:
Too much stress and/or anxiety
Excessive anger, frustration or tension
Certain medications, in particular SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
Sleep disorders, like snoring and sleep apnea
Certain personality types, such as people prone to very competitive, aggressive or hurried tendencies
Bruxism is also surprisingly common in children, with about 20% of children developing bruxism. Most children outgrow bruxism after losing their baby teeth, and bruxism in children often has different causes than for adults, such as:
Misaligned teeth or bite
Pain or irritation, such as teething or an earache
Medical or hereditary reasons, such as cerebral palsy or hyperactivity
Stress, such as changes in routine, difficulties in school, disruptions or arguing at home, etc.
What Are the Negative Effects of Bruxism?
In and around the mouth alone, bruxism can cause:
Teeth that have become flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
Worn and weakened tooth enamel, exposing dentin (the softer, yellow layer of the tooth beneath tooth enamel)
Teeth more susceptible to cracks, breaking, and cavities
Damaged tooth restorations (crowns, veneers, fillings, implants, etc.)
Increased tooth sensitivity or pain
Increased risk of receding gums and gum disease
Increased risk of developing TMD
For people with sleep bruxism, the condition often goes unnoticed unless a partner alerts them to the fact. Sleep bruxism often results in disrupted sleep, negatively affecting the quality and quantity of sleep, and often coincides with other sleep disorders as well. Many people with SB frequently wake with lingering aches, soreness or pain in the jaw, neck, ears, face and/or head. And as a result of stiffness, soreness or pain in the jaw, bruxism can also cause difficulty when speaking or eating.
Bruxism can result in significant and long lasting damage to our teeth, our sleep, and our quality of life if left untreated. In our next blog post, we will discuss how we diagnose and treat bruxism cases to help our patients regain their dental health and peace of mind. If you are concerned that you might have a tooth grinding habit, please contact us to schedule a bruxism consultation today and we will be happy to help!
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