Bruxism: Teeth Grinding and Clenching At Night

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Bruxism is the medical term to describe the habit of clenching your jaws and grinding your teeth. You may unconsciously clench or gnash your teeth when you are awake—known as awake bruxism, or during sleep—sleep bruxism.

Both sleep and awake bruxisms are very common, affecting 30 to 40 million people (both children and adults) in the U.S. alone. 

Mild bruxism might not need any special treatment, but when bruxism develops as a habit, it can cause various problems from tooth damage, severe headache, and jawbone pain and disorders, among others.

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Here are the common symptoms that might indicate bruxism:

  • Tight jaw muscles, or painful jaws in the morning
  • Headache
  • Persistent pain in the face, might feel like an earache
  • Clicking or popping of the joint connecting your skull and jawbone (temporomandibular joint). 
  • If you share a room with others, they might notice a grinding sound coming from you at night
  • Occasional swelling on your lower jaw (one side or both sides)
  • Frequent, rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles
  • Damaged teeth and injured gums, broken dental fillings
  • Tooth sensitivity and pain
  • Sleep disruption
  • Damage on the inside of your cheek (bitten) 

If you are suffering from sleep bruxism, recognizing the symptom might be difficult if you don’t share a room with another. However, pain in your jaws, face, or head in the morning might be a symptom for bruxism.

Generally, people who suffer from sleep bruxism also suffer from other sleep-related issues from snoring to sleep apnea. Since people often don’t know that they are suffering from bruxism, it often leads to various complications. 

The main damage done by bruxism is enamel erosion. Enamel is the outermost, hard surface of your teeth, that protects the tooth’s dentin (softer, more sensitive inner surface) and root (that contains many nerve endings). Enamel can wear and tear as you age, and grinding your teeth can speed up the process. 

Enamel erosion will in turn, cause tooth sensitivity among other possible issues. 

If you notice any of the symptoms discussed above, see your doctor or dentist immediately. Bruxism can lead to long-term teeth damages, and can potentially be a symptom of serious underlying issues (will be discussed below). 

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While there is still an ongoing debate for the actual cause of bruxism, it might be caused by a combination of genetic factors with physical and psychological issues.

Sleep bruxism is categorized as a sleep-related movement disorder, associated with arousals. However, it might be caused by stress.

Awake bruxism is more directly related to emotions such as anger, stress, frustration, and anxiety. It is often developed as a habit during deep concentration. 

These factors below might increase your risk of developing bruxism:

    • Age: bruxism is more common in younger children, and tends to go away by teenage years or early adulthood
  • Stress: stress, frustration, and anxiety are common causes for both sleep and awake bruxisms
  • Genetic factor: if you have other family members that suffer from bruxism, you have an increased risk of also having one
  • Personality: bruxism tend to be more common in competitive, hyperactive, and aggressive personality types
  • Medications: bruxism can be a rare side effect of certain antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. Excessive alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and caffeine can increase the risk of bruxism

Bruxism is also associated with other mental and physical conditions like GERD, parkinson’s disease, dementia, night terrors, and sleep-related disorders.

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Bruxism often develops in children during the development of the first baby teeth, and might relapse when they start to develop permanent teeth. Commonly, the clenching habit will stop as they enter their teenage years. 

Bruxism also often happens in children and teenagers due to stress and anxiety—for example, when facing a school exam—. 

Beside the psychological factors, bruxism might occur in children as a symptom of other conditions, such as allergies, endocrine-related disorders, or dystrophy. 

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In rare cases, chronic bruxism can cause severe complications such as:

  • Cracked, broken or pulled teeth
  • Ear-related issues
  • Jaw-related issues
  • Inflamed temporomandibular joint
  • Permanent, severe pain in some areas on the face
  • Face misalignment

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There are several ways we can take to prevent—and stop—bruxism, such as:

  • Reducing or fully stopping alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks 
  • Avoiding carbonated drinks
  • Stopping the habit of biting and chewing on pens and pencils—common for children—
  • Reducing the habit of chewing gums
  • Train to stop bruxism by softly biting the tip of your tongue during sleep
  • Compress your jaws, cheek and ears with warm compress before sleep and during the day to relax the muscles
  • If the bruxism is related to sleep problems, train yourself to fix your sleep patterns

Since enamel erosion is a very common—and serious— effect of bruxism, you should visit your dentist more often if you currently suffer from bruxism.

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In most cases, bruxism doesn’t require any special treatment. Children experiencing bruxism usually will lose the habit as they grow, and bruxism in adults also tend to disappear with time (i.e. when the person is no longer stressed).

However, in some cases, bruxism can be quite serious, and there are various possible treatments depending on the cause and occurrence:

  • Using mouth guard or bite splint to prevent further damage to teeth’s surfaces and to realign teeth
  • Implementing dental crown to repair the damaged tooth surface and to prevent further damage
  • If bruxism is related to stress or mental disorders, relaxation therapy and other therapies might be needed
  • In severe cases, the patient can consume muscle-relaxant before sleep, or in even rarer cases, botox injection
  • Massaging painful, stressed muscles and compress

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Bruxism can lead to various oral health issues, especially enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity.If you suspect yourself of suffering from bruxism, or already develop tooth sensitivity, give us a call, so our professional dental specialists at Skymark Smile Centre can assist you with the issue effectively.

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