According to some studies, one in three people suffers from bruxism — the technical name for teeth grinding — and it's no laughing matter. If you’re among these teeth-grinding Americans, consciously or unconsciously, it’s time to address the problem. The alternative is not pleasant.
While many people occasionally clench or "mash" their teeth occasionally, 10 percent of cases are considered severe enough to cause serious dental problems. Unchecked, bruxism can lead to cracking or extreme wearing of the teeth that can only be restored by extensive, and expensive, reconstructive surgery.
The grinding, gnashing, gritting of teeth and jaw clenching that characterize bruxism are often unconscious.
The condition is most often triggered by stress, frustration or suppressed anger. Hyperactive adults and children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD often are "bruxers" as well. Crooked and misaligned teeth or an abnormal bite may contribute to bruxism. Certain other medical conditions, and specific medications such as those used to treat anxiety, also are known to cause jaw clenching and occasional grinding. Finally, the tendency fluctuates during a lifetime; while children are slightly more apt to grind their teeth than middle-aged adults, the percentage of teeth-grinding senior citizens drops dramatically.
Bruxism: Mild Annoyance or Serious Situation?
The pressure exerted on teeth and jaws can be equivalent to 600 pounds per square inch on the molars in the back of the mouth, because human cheek muscles that govern chewing are among the strongest in the entire body. That's a lot of force. When it's exerted for reasons other than chewing food, it can have a severe impact on the health of teeth and jaws.
Symptoms of bruxism are as varied as the effects and may include:
- Tooth and jaw pain
- Chronic mouth pain
- Obvious wear spots on tooth enamel
- Cheek soreness or damage
- Tongue spots or indentations
- Tooth sensitivity
- Dull or flat teeth
The subsequent effects range from mild to severe as well. Severe grinding over time can also lead to tooth fractures, erosion at the gumline and other oral health and hygiene issues. Chewing gum or eating hard-to-chew foods can increase the jaw pain caused by bruxism. Wear spots, damaged tooth enamel, and severe sensitivity will be detected by your dentist during routine dental examinations.
What to Do About Grinding
Identifying symptoms is a first step toward eliminating the problem. Because much bruxism can be attributed to stress, conscious relaxation goes a long way toward alleviating the problem. Remedies may not be easy, but confronting the triggers of teeth grinding may help to lessen the effect. A dentist may advise tooth grinders to practice tension-relief exercises throughout the day as consciously relaxing facial muscles and performing jaw exercises are helpful.
Other beneficial practices include:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting more rest
- Active exercising
- Giving up gum chewing
- Avoiding alcohol
- Minimizing caffeine intake, which can increase tension and stress
If you’ve been diagnosed as a tooth-grinder, there are steps you can take at home to relieve soreness and aching teeth:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Application of a warm compress to jaw and neck areas
- Gently massaging jaw, neck and facial muscles (with or without lavender oil) to relieve tension
- Use of specific muscle relaxants
- Physical therapy or chiropractic procedures
If you suffer from mild to moderate bruxism, it might be helpful to use a generic nighttime mouth guard. As a first step, depending on your dentist's recommendation, you might consider a moldable plastic guard. These guards are available without a prescription at a drugstore and can be molded to fit comfortably in your mouth. Custom mouth guards — which are measured and tailored to fit your teeth and jaw by your dental care provider — and are a good investment for anyone with severe bruxism.
Managing the tendency to grind your teeth may take some practice, but learning the techniques is not difficult. Though there is no "cure" for bruxism, there are effective ways to control the urge to grind and gnash your teeth, lessen the effects and prevent serious damage and relieve the associated pain.
While there is much you can do on your own and at home, it is always wise to seek the advice of a dental professional. If you grind your teeth occasionally, or you have a child who is a tooth grinder, why not schedule a consultation so that we can devise ways to treat the symptoms and prevent further damage?