Do you grind your teeth at night or unconsciously clench your jaw during the day? If so, then you likely suffer from bruxism. This condition can start out mostly harmless, but over time the undue stress on your teeth and jaw can eventually develop into several different issues.
Some people who suffer from bruxism can wear their teeth down to the point that they become damaged, weak, sensitive, and more susceptible to decay. The issues bruxism can cause can extend beyond the teeth, as well, leading to jaw pain, facial pain, issues with the temporomandibular joints, and more.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat bruxism in order to prevent these issues and help you maintain your oral health. If you want to learn about those treatments and find out more about the risk factors, symptoms, and causes of bruxism, then take a look at this comprehensive bruxism guide.
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is a condition characterized by unconscious teeth grinding, clenching, and gnashing. It can occur both during sleep (sleep bruxism or nocturnal bruxism) and while you're awake (awake bruxism). While they present themselves slightly differently, both forms of bruxism can result in similar oral health issues if they're not properly treated.
What Causes Bruxism? The Risk Factors
Bruxism has been associated with a neurotransmitter imbalance, but that's only the cause in certain cases. There are a few other risk factors that are more common.
Oftentimes, bruxism is associated with elevated levels of stress that manifest in an unconscious tensing of the jaw muscles. Patients who are coping with things like anger, anxiety, or frustration can sometimes grind their teeth as a way to manage stress caused by these emotions.
Interestingly, bruxism has also been connected to certain personality types. For example, people who are more aggressive and competitive tend to suffer from bruxism more often.
Bruxism can occur as a side effect of a few different medications. Many of those medications are psychiatric, such as antipsychotics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI antidepressants. Sleep medicine can also increase the risk of bruxism. Bruxism caused by antidepressants can sometimes be referred to as SSRI-associated bruxism.
There are some different substances that can cause bruxism, including tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy, and cocaine can also cause bruxism.
There is a genetic component to sleep bruxism as well. It's common that if one family member suffers from sleep bruxism, then there are others with the same condition.
Symptoms of Bruxism
There is a long list of symptoms related to both nocturnal bruxism and awake bruxism.
Bruxism symptoms include:
- Teeth grinding
- Jaw clenching
- Tooth damage
- Tooth wear
- Tooth sensitivity
- Loose teeth
- Sore jaw
- Face, neck, and jaw pain
- Dull headache
- Soft tissue damage
- Problems sleeping
If you're experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you may suffer from bruxism. Contact your dentist as soon as possible in order to prevent further complications.
Complications Associated with Bruxism
The constant teeth grinding associated with sleep bruxism may start out as a minor inconvenience, or you may not even notice it at all, but in time the tooth wear it causes and the stress it places on your jaw, neck, and face can result in some more serious complications.
The tooth wear, also referred to as occlusal wear, that bruxism can cause may result in damage to your teeth or dental restorations. This is a problem in and of itself, but it can also lead to further issues like tooth decay. With your tooth enamel worn down, you're far more likely to develop cavities and possibly a tooth infection.
The jaw joint, or temporomandibular joint, takes on a lot of stress from the teeth grinding and jaw clenching associated with bruxism. When the temporomandibular joints are consistently put under that much pressure, it can result in a temporomandibular disorder or TMJ.
Symptoms of TMJ include jaw pain, earaches, difficult or painful chewing, jaw locking, and facial pain.
Believe it or not, some instances of sleep bruxism can result in a misalignment of the teeth. The constant stress of teeth grinding can make it so that your teeth do not correctly line up when biting.
Sleep Bruxism and Sleep Disorders
Sleep bruxism has been associated with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, which can result in loud snoring and feeling tired regardless of how much sleep you get.
Sleep bruxism is considered to be a sleep disorder or, more accurately, a sleep-related movement disorder. This kind of sleep disorder can also manifest in other behaviors like head rolling and body rocking while sleeping.
If you think that you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, you should seek treatment immediately, as it can potentially result in serious health complications. If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and you're experiencing any of the symptoms of sleep bruxism, odds are you suffer from that as well, and you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
Sleep Bruxism in Children
Teeth grinding at night is a fairly common issue with children, which has the tendency to go away on its own as the child grows older. However, bruxism can be a bit more destructive in kids because baby teeth are not nearly as strong as adult teeth.
You shouldn't panic if your little one suffers from sleep bruxism episodes, but you should take measures to protect your child's teeth, like getting them a night guard.
How Do I Know If I Suffer from Bruxism?
It's a little easier to determine whether you suffer from awake bruxism because you're awake while you're displaying the symptoms. However, sleep bruxism is a different story considering you're not fully conscious while the teeth grinding is occurring.
For this reason, you may have to have your sleep bruxism diagnosed by someone you live with or by a medical professional. The grinding noises associated with sleep bruxism generally can be heard quite easily by someone nearby, and they're likely to let you know well before any dental pain occurs, but if you live alone, you should consult a physician after you experience any symptoms.
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Bruxism?
Much like if you were to try to diagnose bruxism yourself, your doctor wouldn't be able to observe the symptoms — at least the symptoms of sleep bruxism — while you're awake. However, there are some telltale signs that many patients suffering from bruxism will exhibit. Those signs include:
Your doctor should have a good idea of what tooth wear related to bruxism should look like. If they notice that specific pattern of tooth wear during a dental examination, they'll be able to diagnose bruxism.
Broken or Missing Teeth
While there are plenty of reasons for broken or missing teeth, you're likely to be aware of which of those reasons caused your particular dental issues — unless, of course, they're the result of tooth wear caused by sleep bruxism.
Nocturnal bruxism doesn't just wear away at your tooth enamel; it can also cause plenty of aches and pains throughout your neck, face, and jaw muscles. Your doctor will check to see if you're experiencing any jaw pain in particular, as that's where the tenderness is likely to begin.
Your doctor may also employ a Bruxcore Bruxism Monitoring Device in order to properly diagnose your sleep bruxism. This simple device can measure abrasion on your teeth caused by nighttime teeth grinding. It's a great way to eliminate other potential causes of your symptoms.
How Is Bruxism Treated?
There are various approaches to treating bruxism and the complications that can result from it. The success rate of each can vary widely depending on the particular case, but many have proved to be highly effective.
Using a Night Guard
A night guard can be highly effective at protecting your teeth if you suffer from bruxism. It's a dental appliance that is custom-fitted to your upper and lower teeth in order to prevent teeth grinding while you sleep. This may sound like an uncomfortable approach to bruxism treatment, but these devices are fairly unintrusive, and they're far more comfortable than the symptoms of sleep bruxism can be.
Night guards can also be referred to as an occlusal splint, a mouth splint, or an oral splint. The only difference is that a night guard sounds a bit more inviting. In other words, don't panic if your doctor suggests an occlusal splint for your sleep bruxism.
Severe bruxism can sometimes require dental restorations, such as crowns, inlays, and onlays, to be properly treated. In certain instances, teeth may need to be replaced with dental bridges or implants.
However, these dental treatments will not address the sleep or awake bruxism that caused the need for them in the first place. If you want to avoid further dental procedures, you'll need to address the bruxism so you can stop teeth grinding as well.
If your sleep or awake bruxism is the result of stress or anxiety, talk therapy may be a viable solution. Addressing the causes of these psychological issues can help to reduce them, therefore reducing the chance of teeth grinding from sleep bruxism or jaw clenching from awake bruxism.
Even if you don't use talk therapy to learn stress-relieving strategies, you may want to consider meditation or exercise, both of which can reduce stress and anxiety and help to treat your bruxism.
Another form of therapy that's worth considering if you're looking to treat either sleep or awake bruxism is biofeedback. This treatment can help you get a better grasp of how to control your jaw muscles in order to stop teeth grinding.
Medications that Can Reduce Teeth Grinding
While the causes of bruxism are largely psychological, your doctor may suggest certain medications to prevent complications caused by tooth grinding. These forms of treatment are considered temporary, but they can still prove to be quite helpful.
If it's determined that your bruxism may be the result of anxiety, your doctor may prescribe an antianxiety medication that can calm your central nervous system and help you relax enough to avoid tooth grinding while you work on a more permanent solution for your bruxism.
If someone is able to relax their jaw muscles, they're much more likely not to grind their teeth, so your doctor may temporarily prescribe a medication to help you do that.
In severe cases where other treatments are proving ineffective, Botox injections may be able to prevent teeth grinding while you seek more permanent treatment for your bruxism.
Addressing Other Causes
If your doctor can pinpoint an external cause for your bruxism, then treating that issue may be an effective way to prevent bruxism teeth grinding.
Treating Sleep Apnea and Other Sleep Disorders
Sleep-related bruxism may be the result of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. If that's the case, then treating the sleep apnea or other sleep disorder may work to treat sleep bruxism. Treatment can include oral splints or a CPAP machine.
If your bruxism is being caused by a certain medication that you've been taking, then switching the type of medication may be all you need to do to find relief.
Treating Other Medical Conditions
Medical conditions such as epilepsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) can all cause bruxism. Treating them may be the solution to your grinding habit.
The causes of bruxism can be difficult to pin down, which opens up the door for a lot of different questions from patients seeking relief. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, along with their answers.
Is Teeth Grinding Harmful?
If you're aware that you grind your teeth at night, but you're not experiencing any complications from it, you may not feel the need to treat it. However, you should know that you can experience significant tooth damage, or occlusal trauma, if you fail to address the issue. Not only that, but you may start experiencing head, jaw, face, and neck pain from your bruxism.
Is Chewing Gum a Good Way to Treat Awake Bruxism?
Chewing gum could help ease teeth grinding. According to Dr. James Younan, DDS (aka Dr. Gibbz), he often recommends his patients chew Xylitol gum, such as Ice Breakers. This helps keep their jaw moving and not clenching. Psychologically, when there is gum in the mouth, the mind thinks there is food in there, and subconsciously, the patient will begin to chew. This helps with bruxism.
Are Occlusal Splints Uncomfortable?
If your doctor has recommended a mouth splint to treat your bruxism, you may feel reluctant because wearing something in your mouth while you sleep doesn't exactly sound comfortable. However, occlusal splints are designed to fit your mouth comfortably so that you hardly notice them after just a little bit of acclimation.
Are Bruxism and Temporomandibular Disorders the Same Thing?
Although bruxism can cause issues with your temporomandibular joint, it's a fairly common misconception that TMJ disorder and bruxism are one and the same. TMJ disorder occurs when the joint in your jaw is misaligned, while bruxism is characterized by teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw.
Can Bruxism Cause You to Lose Your Teeth?
Unfortunately, when you grind your teeth consistently, it can eventually lead to a loosening of the teeth and ultimately, tooth loss. There are a ton of different issues that are likely to arise well before tooth mobility occurs, but untreated chronic bruxism teeth grinding can absolutely cause you to lose teeth.
Bruxism Should Not Be Ignored
To sum up this comprehensive bruxism guide, bruxism is a condition most often caused by stress that can occur while the sufferer is awake or asleep. It's characterized by teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw, both of which can lead to significant issues with your oral health, including damaged teeth, sensitive teeth, damaged soft tissue in the mouth, TMJ disorder, and other issues like face, jaw, and neck pain.
Bruxism left untreated can result in tooth decay, tooth infection, and eventually tooth loss. There are several methods of treatment, including wearing a guard or splint while you sleep, addressing stress through therapy and meditation, biofeedback therapy, and more.
If you suffer from sleep bruxism and you live with someone, they should be able to identify it easily since the teeth grinding will be audible. However, if you live alone and are experiencing symptoms of bruxism, you should speak with a physician so they can provide an accurate diagnosis and offer suggestions for treatment.
Do not ignore bruxism because you aren't experiencing any of the negative symptoms. In many cases, it's only a matter of time before those symptoms do arrive.
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