Bruxism: Grinding Teeth

Bruxism, commonly known as teeth grinding, is a condition in which you clench or grind your teeth while sleeping.  Many people frequently clench and grind their teeth during the night and can be completely unaware of its occurrence. 

Causes of Bruxism

The exact cause of Bruxism is unknown; however, factors such as stress, posture, diet, sleeping habits, and ability to relax are known to trigger symptoms of bruxism. 

Symptoms of Bruxism

It is common for a person to grind and clench their teeth at night and never feel any symptoms, making the condition hard to diagnose.  Depending on the severity, symptoms vary from person to person. If a person severely clenches their teeth at night, they may experience temporomandibular joint problems due to the pressure the action is putting on the muscles, tissues and other structures around your jaw. 

Grinding can also wear down your teeth and, if severe, can be loud enough to bother your partner while sleeping. Other common symptoms include: depression, earache, eating disorders, insomnia, sore or painful jaw or headache. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor to find out treatment options.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Bruxism

If you feel you are suffering from symptoms of Bruxism, your doctor can do an exam to rule out other disorders that cause similar symptoms, such as dental and ear disorders. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment options are available that will alleviate the pain and prevent permanent damage to your teeth and jaw. There are many options to reduce pain without medications such as:

  • Apply ice or wet heat to sore jaw

  • Change sleep habits to ensure the right amount of sleep

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Relaxation exercises for your face and jaw muscles

  • Reducing daily stress

  • Avoid eating hard foods like hard candies and nuts

One treatment option is to fatigue the muscles of the jaw.  You can do this by clamping down on a small rag or mouth guard.  Clinch down for 15 seconds and relax.  Repeat this 15 to 20 times. This should be done three to five times a day for two weeks.  If it is successful, you should repeat one time before bed after the two week trial.

In severe cases, your dentist can make a custom mouth guard or splint to protect your teeth from the pressure of grinding and clenching. Some behavioral therapies have been developed for people to try to unlearn the behavior, although, these therapies have proven to be more successful for daytime clenching because nighttime clenching cannot be consciously stopped. If your jaw positioning has been affected by the disease, your dentist may suggest orthodontic adjustment of your bite pattern. Surgery, however, should always be considered a last resort.