While it’s common to clench your jaw when feeling stressed or angry, it’s a little less common to clench your jaw and thrust it forward repeatedly every day. The same goes for grinding your teeth — especially grinding your teeth at night.
If you find that you’re either clenching or grinding often or seem to always wake up with a sore mouth, it’s highly likely that you’re suffering from bruxism. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the different types of bruxism, how it’s treated, and why you shouldn’t think twice about addressing it.
What Exactly Is Bruxism, and Why Is it Harmful?
Put simply, bruxism is a disorder in which a person unconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth. It’s estimated that those with bruxism clench or grind down with a bite force that’s six to eight times greater than average.
The clenching and grinding can occur throughout the day, night, or both, and it can end up causing pain or soreness in various parts of your mouth, such as:
- Your jaw muscles
- Your teeth
- Your temporomandibular joints (TMJs). The TMJs act as a sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull, allowing you to open and close your mouth.
Constantly grinding your teeth can also cause several other problems aside from aches and jaw pain. People that have bruxism can eventually end up with:
- Physical changes to their facial profile
- Worn down, fractured, chipped, cracked, or loose teeth
- Wearing down of the tooth enamel, exposing underlying dentin and causing sensitivity
- Tooth loss
- Near irreparable damage to your TMJs, jaw, and neck muscles
- Jaw dislocation or locking
- Constant headaches or ear pain
It should be noted that bruxism isn’t necessarily a dangerous disorder. However, when left untreated, the damage it causes can end up being permanent. Permanent damages, such as loss of tooth enamel can cause other oral issues that require extensive and costly treatments.
What Are the Different Types of Bruxism?
The severity of bruxism can range from mild to severe. As mentioned earlier, it can occur at different times of the day. Because of this, bruxism is divided into two separate disorders:
When someone with the disorder clenches their jaw and grinds their teeth during the day, it’s referred to as “awake bruxism”. This type of bruxism is usually linked to emotional issues, including stress, anxiety, and anger. Of course, concentrating too hard can also cause a person to tense up.
Most dental professionals agree that awake bruxism doesn’t always require treatment. In most instances, if you can catch yourself grinding or clenching, you can stop yourself from doing it. Additionally, stress management techniques can help break the physical habit or at least lessen the frequency in which it occurs.
When someone does the above in their sleep, it’s referred to as “sleep bruxism” and is also classified as a sleep disorder. Sleep bruxism is considered to be much more serious as you’re unaware of what’s happening. This means that you’re also unaware of just how strongly you’re clenching your jaw and teeth at the time.
People with sleep bruxism can easily use up to 250 pounds of bite force, which can lead to noticeable jaw pain, teeth problems, and headaches throughout the day.
What Are the Causes of Teeth Grinding?
It is not yet known what exactly causes bruxism. However, there are several reasons why you may be grinding your teeth:
- Oral issues: Problems like an abnormal bite, or crooked or missing teeth can cause a person to grind their teeth. The same goes for underlying issues with the TMJs, especially if they cause muscle spasms during sleep.
- Stress and anxiety: Excessive worrying and ongoing stress also cause people to bite down more forcefully. Both mental health disorders and stressors in life can lead to emotional distress — too much of which can lead someone to develop this physiological response.
- Medical conditions or medications: Certain conditions like Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep apnea can cause teeth grinding. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, can also trigger bruxism over time.
- Other reasons: Daily habits such as smoking tobacco and drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages can also increase a person’s risk of developing the disorder.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of the Disorder?
Bruxism can often look like other conditions or health problems. If you have sleep bruxism, it may not even occur to you that something as obvious as waking up with a sore jaw or a headache is due to grinding your teeth all night.
The most common signs and symptoms of bruxism typically include:
- Facial pain, usually jaw and teeth soreness
- Abraded, cracked, or chipped teeth
- Having overly sensitive teeth, especially when it comes to certain temperatures
- Tension in the jaw muscles or entire face
- Headaches and earaches
- Worn down tooth enamel starting from the top of the teeth
- Popping or clicking sounds coming from the temporomandibular joint
- Damaged cheeks and tongue indentations
- Wear facets (smooth areas created on the biting surfaces of the teeth from being ground together repeatedly)
The other physical problems mentioned earlier, such as tooth loss, are typically signs of untreated bruxism.
Who Is At Risk for Bruxism?
Bruxism is fairly common, affecting roughly 15%-40% of all children and 10% of all adults. It also affects both men and women at nearly the same rate. Sleep bruxism can occur as early as four years of age, but doesn’t typically peak until ages 10 through 14. Awake bruxism, on the other hand, is more commonly diagnosed in adults.
Oral health specialists have pointed out that there are certain personality types with a higher risk of developing bruxism. For example, individuals with nervous tension (pain, anger, frustration) or individuals that have more hurried, competitive, and aggressive tendencies, are more likely to develop the disorder.
There is also some evidence that bruxism is caused by an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters in some individuals. Essentially, the factors that contribute to your risks of developing bruxism can come down to the following:
- Your family history (if there’s bruxism in your family, it can be hereditary)
- Your personality type
- Your stress or anxiety levels
- Amount of tobacco and caffeine use
- Whether or not you’re on antidepressants
- Whether or not you have certain medical conditions, including sleep disorders
Bruxism in young children typically occurs due to:
- Mouth irritation
- Misaligned teeth
- Sleep apnea or other sleep disorders
While bruxism is more common in children, it usually goes away by adulthood. However, if your child is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of the disorder, it’s still imperative that you have them examined by a dentist to prevent harm to their oral and overall health.
How Is Bruxism Diagnosed and Treated?
Bruxism is typically diagnosed based on the symptoms discovered during your physical exam. Your dentist will carefully evaluate your TMJs, teeth, and jaw muscles for the signs of the disorder and make a decision based on what they see.
X-rays may also be required, and in some instances, they may also recommend a sleep study referred to as polysomnography. Polysomnography is a more extensive exam conducted at a sleep center, and it’s used to make a more conclusive diagnosis of bruxism.
If you are diagnosed with bruxism, your dentist may do the following to treat it:
- Fit you for a custom night guard to wear to bed
- Prescribe a muscle relaxant to take before bed
- Recommend behavioral therapy, such as learning to change the placement of your tongue, teeth, and lips to provide relief
- Recommend biofeedback (for awake bruxism. This involves an electronic mechanism that measures the muscle activity of the mouth and jaw. This mechanism signals when there’s too much activity to alert you so you can relax your jaw.
- Recommend or refer you to a mental healthcare professional that can prescribe you antidepressants or antianxiety medications (if a mental health disorder or chronic anxiety is found to be the primary cause)
In most cases, bruxism can be successfully treated. However, your dentist will likely want to monitor your condition over the course of several visits to help determine the severity of your tooth grinding and the best course of treatment. Treatment will also be determined based on a variety of factors, including:
- Your age
- Your overall health
- Your personal and family medical history
- Whether or not you’re on certain medications already or how you may respond to the commonly recommended medications for the disorder
- How well you respond to certain therapies or procedures
- Any other procedures you may need for tooth damage
- Your personal preference and lifestyle
Grinding Your Teeth? It’s Time to See a Dentist
The damage that bruxism causes to your mouth over time can be painful and costly. If you suspect that you’re unconsciously grinding your teeth at night, or can’t seem to stop during the day, then it’s time to pay a visit to your dentist for a diagnosis and solution.
Don’t wait to seek treatment (and relief) for your bruxism. Schedule your appointment with us today so you can unclench your jaw for good.