Bruxism is the medical term for grinding, gnashing, or clenching the teeth. This condition affects both children and adults. Some people with bruxism unconsciously clench their teeth during the day, often when they feel anxious or tense. Sleep bruxism is the grinding or clenching of teeth during sleep.
In most cases, bruxism is mild and may not even require treatment. However, it can be frequent and violent and can lead to joint and muscle disorders (Temporomandibular Disorders – TMD), headaches, damaged teeth and periodontium, and other problems.
Unfortunately, people with sleep bruxism usually aren’t aware of the fact that they brux, so they aren’t diagnosed with the condition until complications occur. That’s why it’s important to diagnose sleep bruxism as early as possible, and to seek appropriate treatment.
The signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
• Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to wake the sleep partner
• Teeth that are worn down, flattened, or chipped
• Worn tooth enamel, exposing the inside of the tooth
• Increased tooth sensitivity
• Jaw pain or tightness in the jaw muscles
• Earache because of violent jaw muscle contractions
• Dull morning headache
• Chronic facial pain
• Chewed tissue on the inside of the cheeks
The mechanism behind bruxism is not completely understood. In some adults, abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth (malocclusion) may contribute to the problem. Often, psychological factors may cause bruxism, including:
• Anxiety, stress, or tension
• Suppressed anger or frustration
• Aggressive, competitive, or hyperactive personality type
In children, bruxism may be related to growth and development. Some researchers believe that children brux because their top and bottom teeth don’t fit together comfortably. Others think that children grind their teeth because of tension, anger, allergy problems, or as a response to pain from an earache or teething. Bruxism occurs in up to 30 percent of children, often around the ages of 5 and 6. It’s particularly common in children with cerebral palsy or severe mental retardation.
Most children outgrow bruxism before they get their adult teeth.In some cases, bruxism isn’t caused by stress or dental problems. It can be a complication of another disorder, such as Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Bruxism is also associated with sleep apnea. It can also be an uncommon side effect of some psychiatric medications including antidepressants.
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These self-care steps may prevent or help treat bruxism:
• Limit alcohol, tobacco and caffeine – Cutting down on daily intake of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, or giving up these substances entirely may help.
• Reduce stress – Keeping life stresses to a minimum may reduce the risk of developing bruxism or limit the damaging effects of bruxism.
• Consult the sleep partner – Consult the bed partner to be aware of any grinding or clicking sounds while sleeping. The sleep partner can then provide continuous feedback on any teeth grinding sounds in the night.
• Have regular dental exams – Dental exams, preferably with the BiteStrip prescribed by a dentist, are the best way to screen for bruxism.