Your Comprehensive Guide to Bruxism Symptoms and Management
Bruxism: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment
Do you wake up most mornings with an unexplained headache and sore jaw? Has your partner mentioned that you make some awful, teeth-grinding noises at night? You may just be among the half of America’s population who grind their teeth. If you’d like to know for sure, this guide will take you through what bruxism is, what its causes are, what its symptoms look like, and how a dentist can help you manage the condition.
What is bruxism?
Bruxism is the medical term for when someone involuntarily grinds or clenches their teeth against each other. It’s similar to chewing, but in this case, you have no food in your mouth. One study found that at least 8% of the general population grinds their teeth unconsciously at night, a phenomenon referred to as sleep bruxism.
For most people, particularly if you only grind at night, the condition can go unnoticed for many years. As a matter of fact, it may only be until a partner hears the strange noises from their sleeping significant other that the patient begins to notice the other symptoms themselves. There have also been some (very rare) extreme cases where the condition goes undiagnosed until dental problems start cropping up.
What causes it?
While there’s no single cause of bruxism, there has been some evidence of a link between this condition and sleep-related arousals where the cardiac and respiratory systems show a rise in activity. Because sleep arousals often go hand in hand with increased muscle activity, such as in the jaw, it may lead to teeth grinding. Other researchers believe that bruxism is the result of psychological factors like stress, anxiety, and other intense emotions.
It makes sense because our bodies respond to stress with hormone and energy release. Your body ends up with all this excess energy that it needs to do something with, and muscle activity like clenching and grinding provides an outlet for that energy. Some physical causes like acid reflux and improper bite may also cause bruxism. Excessive alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and antidepressants may also increase your chances of developing this involuntary grinding.
What are the symptoms and effects of bruxism?
Since most people grind their teeth unknowingly and it often happens at night, you may wonder how you can tell if you’re doing it. The biggest sign that you’re a bruxer is a sore jaw, headache, or toothache, particularly right after you wake. You may also wake yourself up at night by unconsciously grinding your teeth together.
Worn teeth, increased tooth sensitivity, and broken teeth or fillings are also typical signs that the condition is present. In some cases, untreated bruxism can even lead to gum recession, a process that wears away gum tissue and exposes more of the roots. These areas easily trap bacteria, which increases your chances of cavities and (if left untreated) tooth loss.
Bruxism doesn’t stop with your teeth—it may also cause earaches. When you continually clench your jaw and rub the uneven surfaces of your teeth together, you apply pressure on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This can lead to pain in the joint and its surrounding muscles, which control jaw movement. These are just some of the signs and symptoms you may have if you suffer from bruxism. You’ll need to talk to your dentist to determine if what you’re experiencing is truly bruxism or something else entirely.
What can my dentist do about it?
Once you’re diagnosed as a bruxer, your dentist will most likely recommend an occlusal splint or other specialized mouth guard for treatment. You’ll wear this custom-fit device, which resembles a retainer, to prevent your lower and upper teeth from rubbing against each other. Some patients may also receive a prescription for muscle relaxers to take before bed to minimize nighttime muscle activity.
In very mild cases, your dentist may be able to apply tooth-colored composite to build up the worn edges of your teeth, but if you’re missing a lot of tooth structure, dental crowns are a better restorative solution. Other patients may benefit from a reductive coronoplasty, or adjustment to your bite, to even out the surfaces of the teeth. This is usually helpful because when your teeth’s surfaces are even, you may feel less tempted to compulsively grind. Your dentist can also prescribe a painkiller to relieve any toothache or jaw pain for extreme cases if needed.
Do you think you’re a bruxer? Contact us today and find out for sure.
Our dentist can easily identify bruxism from the shape of your teeth alone. Dr. Monroe may also feel around your jaw and neck for any tenderness. If you suspect you’re a bruxer and want to know for sure, schedule your evaluation with us today. There’s no reason to wait any longer to find relief from the symptoms of bruxism and improve your overall health!