What is Bruxism?

Do you suffer from headaches when you first wake up? Are your jaw muscles sore when you wake? If you can say yes to one or both of these questions you may have bruxism.

Other signs of bruxism are an aching face, head or neck and catching yourself clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. Bruxism is when you grind or clench your teeth.

Although most individuals will suffer from mild bruxism at some point in their lives, 25% of individuals will have bruxism to the point of being symptomatic (causing health issues).

The individuals in the 25 percentile who have bruxism over time will notice that their teeth are loose and possibly painful. Bruxism can also destroy the bone or gum tissue. Bruxism can also contribute to temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). TMJ is a general term that covers acute or chronic inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. That is the joint that connects the jaw (mandible) to the skull.

Unconscious Teeth Grinding

Most people do not realize that they are grinding or clenching their teeth, they do it unconsciously, usually in their sleep. Sometimes a sleeping partner tells them that they make a horrible grinding sound while sleeping and for others they discover the habit at the dentist’s office when they are told that there is evidence of bruxism (worn teeth, or fractured enamel).

Individuals may have medical complaints when they suffer from bruxism such as earaches, insomnia, headaches, jaw pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and also eating disorders.

Risk Factors

There are even some factors that are associated with bruxism such as sleep disorders (snoring, hypopnea, obstructive sleep apnea), malocclusion, consuming large amounts of caffeinated drinks and foods before bedtime, drinking large amounts of alcohol, smoking, high levels of stress, taking certain medications such as SSRIs and stimulants, individuals who have a hypersensitivity of the dopamine receptors in the brain, or who take stimulant drugs such as the drugs in the amphetamine-based family or individuals who have Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease.

Grinding of teeth is not a learned habit, but a reflex chewing activity. Chewing is one of the complex neuromuscular activities that are controlled by reflex nerve pathways and by the brain. When the brain is at rest, during sleep the reflex part can take over causing bruxism. There are several medical conditions that can be linked to bruxism possibly triggering it such as digestive ailments or anxiety.

What can your dentist do for you if you do have bruxism? Your dentist will first try to determine the cause of your bruxism. The treatment will be determined by the cause and the extent of damage to your teeth.

Some of the treatment options are wearing an appliance when you sleep, learning how to relax better, and reducing the “high spots” of certain teeth in order to even out your bite. If your teeth do not fit together well, it may encourage grinding. To correct abnormal bite, the dentist may use crowns, fillings or other orthodontics.