What Should You Know About Teeth Grinding? - Smile Dental Center

woman waking up with jaw painBruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding. Patients with this condition have a long-term pattern of clenching and rubbing their teeth together. This behavior may occur throughout the day in response to stress or during sleep, which is classified as a movement disorder.

Treatment options vary and can depend on other preexisting conditions. When your dentist notices visible damage, the approach may be more proactive to address jaw pain, headaches or sleep apnea. If you think you may grind your teeth or were recently diagnosed with bruxism, here’s what you should know.

What Is Bruxism?

Bruxism is a disorder in which a patient unknowingly grinds or clenches their teeth. Although a definitive cause has yet to be determined, commonly linked factors include:

  • A source of tension, stress, frustration or anger
  • A competitive, anxious or aggressive personality
  • Issues with the brain’s neurotransmitters
  • Use of certain antidepressant medications
  • A family history of teeth grinding

Bruxism presents in two ways:

  • Sleep Bruxism: The most common form, this type of teeth grinding can occur in conjunction with sleep apnea. Grinding or clenching may stem from waking up several times during the night.
  • Awake or Daytime Bruxism: This may be a coping mechanism to deal with outside factors that influence a person’s emotional and psychological state. In certain cases, the condition may emerge when heavily focused on a certain task or action.

No matter the potential source, long-term untreated bruxism can take a toll on the mouth, resulting in:

  • Fractured or loose teeth
  • Worn down enamel
  • Damaged dental restorations
  • Tooth loss
  • Jaw pain or worsening TMJ
  • Changes in jaw structure
  • Tension headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Clicking as you open your jaw

Signs of Bruxism

Unconscious teeth grinding or clenching is the primary sign of bruxism. If you don’t catch yourself, other people might spot you grinding your teeth during the day or hear it at night.

Your dentist may additionally notice:

  • Obvious signs of wear, including unexplained fractures or flattened teeth
  • Worn down enamel and other visible signs of abrasion
  • Cracked and chipped teeth
  • Tooth pain in multiple spots, often accompanied by exposed tissue
  • Tighter jaw muscles
  • A locked jaw
  • Dislocated jaw
  • Indentations on the tongue
  • Signs of chewing on the inside of the cheek

If your dentist spots these signs, you may be asked about recent headaches or earaches, facial or jaw pain or sleep disruptions.

Factors That Increase Risk for Bruxism

Patients are more likely to live with bruxism if they:

  • Have a consistent source of stress that causes anger or frustration
  • Are known to be aggressive or hyperactive in personality
  • Smoke or use other tobacco products
  • Regularly consume caffeinated drinks or recreational drugs with a stimulant effect
  • Use antidepressants
  • Are younger in age; more children than adults experience teeth grinding
  • Live with a neurological disorder like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or dementia
  • Manage a gastrointestinal disorder, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Have a sleep disorder, including sleep apnea or night terrors
  • Currently experience dental issues, like chipped or misaligned teeth, dryness or mouth irritation

Treatment for Bruxism

Based on when you grind your teeth, treatment can entail:

  • Assessing the amount of muscle action in your jaw
  • Learning how to rest your mouth to prevent future grinding and jaw pain
  • Avoiding habits that cause you to chew on objects or grind your teeth
  • Nightly exercises to relax your jaw
  • Being fitted for a mouthguard to be worn at night
  • Taking medication to address neurological activity
  • Limiting caffeine and giving up alcohol and tobacco

To learn more about managing bruxism, contact our Shelton office today.