Bruxism is the medical term used for tooth grinding or teeth clenching that one might unintentionally do from time to time. Though this phenomenon can happen at any time during the day, most people suffering from bruxism, grind their teeth at night in their sleep. And its severity leads to the discomforts as mentioned above. ‘A large number of people affected with bruxism grind their teeth during their sleep in the night. This continuous grinding can eventually remove critical portions of healthy enamel from the chewing surfaces of the teeth and may cause facial pain,’ explains Dr Shantanu Jaradi, aesthetic dentist, Dentzz Dental Care, Mumbai.
Though a mild form of bruxism won’t cause any threat or trouble to a person, but as Dr Jaradi explains, ‘if it escalates it could lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other oral problems.’
Experts believe that bruxism is related to increased psychological stress and anxiety. It is also thought to be transmitted genetically and occurs in about 20 percent of the general population. ‘There is some evidence in medical literature that point out towards emotional or physical stress that can lead to nocturnal teeth grinding, which may be a way to relieve tension,’ says Dr Jaradi.
People who exhibit temporary bruxism also toss and turn in their sleep, perspire heavily, and exhibit other symptoms typical of stress that are not specifically related to bruxism. Read to know about the other signs of stress you could be suffering from.
‘But remember the causes of bruxism vary from person to person. Different people have different triggers,’ says Dr Jaradi. Some common triggers that can set off an episode of nocturnal grinding are:
- Daytime stress
- Eye strain
- Sinus infections
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Changes in the weather
- Adjusting to new eyeglasses
- Constant use of headbands
- Hormonal changes
The spectrum of stress and anxiety is large and what would give rise to a habit of bruxism in one might not be significant for the other. ‘Bruxism usually affects people with some underlying nervous tension or disturbance. Anger, pain and frustration can trigger a bout of clenching and grinding in the night. Also people who are aggressive, competitive and hurried in nature can also be at a greater risk of bruxism,’ points out Dr Jaradi. Read to know why anger is not good for you.
The signs and symptoms of bruxism are so subtle that it usually goes unnoticed during the initial periods. ‘People usually aren’t diagnosed with bruxism until it is too late because they don’t realize that they have the habit,’ says Dr Jaradi. Many times one learns about this habit from a loved one who hears the sound of grinding in the night. Though one might not find out the grinding and clenching habit on his own, there are signs that can point out to it, like:
Morning headaches: During severe fits of bruxism one may wake up in the morning with a headache. ‘The muscles that are stressed because of constant grinding and clenching during the night set the stage for migraine headaches, tension type headaches, sinus headaches, allergy headaches and premenstrual headaches,’ says Dr Jaradi. Also read about foods that can give you headaches.
Jaw pain: The constant grinding and clenching can give rise to tooth and jaw pain with a distressing feeling on the face. Tensed muscles and excessive wear and tear of the teeth due to bruxism leads to jaw pain.
Other oral problems: Continuous forceful biting in sleep may cause the jaws to move out of proper balance. It can also cause stress fractures in the teeth. Additionally, this may damage the temporomadibular joint that helps the lower jaw to join with one side of the head. It can also lead to hearing loss or change the shape of the face. Even with the mild form of the condition, if it persists longer, can result in chipped, broken or reduced teeth. Overtime it can loosen teeth from the cavity and can also present with receding gum line.
Tooth sensitivity: People who have otherwise healthy teeth and gums clench so often and so hard that over time their teeth become sensitive. Know more causes that leads to tooth sensitivity.
Distressing behaviour: For many whose symptoms of night grinding go unnoticed can also bite fingernails, pencils or chew the insides of their cheeks during the day time.
People usually aren’t diagnosed with bruxism until it is too late. So if you notice any of the above symptoms or see changes in your teeth structure with no certain reason it makes sense to visit your dentist and get checked.
Bruxism can be treated and checked in the following ways:
Learning to relax:
The objective is to help the bruxer, or the person suffering from bruxism change his behavior by helping him learn to rest the tongue, teeth and lips properly. ‘When someone becomes aware of their problem, simply advising them to rest their tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut may be enough to change their behavior and relieve the discomfort,’ says Dr Jaradi.
Using a night guard:
A night guard is a plastic mouth appliance that’s worn on the arches of the teeth to absorb the force of biting and grinding due to bruxism in sleep. It forms a barrier between the top and bottom teeth to stop the grinding of the two arches. The night guard receives the occlusal wear rather than the teeth. This appliance can prevent future damage to the teeth and helps change the patient’s destructive behavior and to relieve the tension-headache.
Regular exercises can help you relieve stress and muscle tension from your overall body, which protects you from night grinding of teeth.
Observe a peaceful sleep routine:
Create a calm atmosphere for yourself before your bed time. Relax and unwind at least prior to an hour of going to bed. You can read a book and soothe yourself. Avoid eating before going to bed.
Soothe your jaws:
If your jaw ache in the morning, moisten a terry-cloth tissue in warm water, squeeze it and apply to an aching jaw till you feel better. This will help to calm down pain.
Keep up with your dental visits:
Regular dental visits are very essential as the dentist inevitably checks for physical signs of bruxism. If the dentist or patient notices signs of bruxism, the condition may be observed over several visits to be sure of the problem before recommending and starting therapy.
Take sessions in stress management:
Therapies for stress management; relaxation therapy and meditation also help manage stress and hence help to control night time teeth grinding. It is important to know all the signs and symptoms of bruxism at regular intervals to treat the core cause accordingly.
The content has been verified by Dr Shantanu Jaradi, aesthetic dentist, Dentzz Dental Care, Mumbai.