Bruxism is the grinding or clenching of teeth, most often at night. Teeth grinding isn't something most people are aware they are doing: many people only become aware they are "bruxers" when their dentist notices signs of tooth or jaw damage caused by the disorder.
Nocturnal teeth grinding is one of the most common sleep disorders: thirty to forty million Americans brux on a nightly basis. Five to ten percent of bruxers clench or grind their teeth so forcefully that teeth are damaged and jaw problems, such as TMJ disorder, develop.
Symptoms of Bruxism
Unless your teeth grinding is noticed by your bed partners (grinding can cause enough noise other people's sleep is disturbed), chances are good that your dentist will notice the problem before you do. A dental exam may reveal signs of:
Flat chewing surfaces
Fractures in teeth
Signs of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
Symptoms bruxers are more likely to notice themselves are headaches, earaches, sore jaw muscles, and "popping" sounds in the jaw (a sign of TMJ damage or an out of balance jaw).
Causes of Teeth Grinding
Stress, anxiety and anger are the most common causes of jaw clenching in adults, and highly competitive "Type A" personalities are often prone to bruxism. Some sleep disorders can aggravate the condition, as can alcohol consumption and some medications. Dental problems, including improper alignment of upper and lower teeth, can also lead to clenching and grinding.
Children can also brux. While a child may brux due to stress, more often an allergy, ear infection or cold are to blame. If an allergy is at fault, removing the allergen should reduce bruxing.
Treatment Options for Teeth Grinding
What's a Night Guard?
A night guard is a custom-made plastic shield made by a dentist. The night guard fits between your upper and lower teeth, and is worn while you sleep. The plastic guard prevents further dental damage. Although the idea of sleeping with the plastic night guard in their mouths discourages many people, most people who use the guards quickly get used to them.
Biofeedback and Relaxation Techniques
Stress management and relaxation techniques can reduce anxiety and stress, and possibly reduce grinding. Meditation, controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can all help. Biofeedback techniques can teach a person to use less force when they bite down, which over time becomes an unconscious habit.
Warm compresses can help relax jaw muscles. Extremely tight jaw muscles may require treatment with muscle relaxants. A rigorous (and often painful) massage technique called Rolfing can teach jaw muscles to relax. Rolfing is not for everyone, and should only be practiced by a qualified masseuse.
Even if a night guard or biofeedback helps prevent further damage, your teeth may already have taken a beating. Your dentist may need to repair cracked teeth and fractured fillings as a result of bruxism.