Teeth grinding or bruxism is a very common problem affecting about 25% of the general population. Most people clench and/or grind at times but not all have symptoms. The 2 most common symptoms are: jaw pain and tooth wear. Jaw pain can range from occasional headaches to chronic TMJ dysfunction. TMJ is your tempero mandibular joint or jaw joint. This habit occurs both during sleep and when awake. If you notice yourself clenching and/or grinding during waking hours, I guarantee that you are also doing it while you sleep. While awake, you can stop yourself but, while asleep this parafunction can go on unchecked.
Signs and symptoms:
The most common sign of bruxism is tooth wear. Minimal tooth wear is normal and increases with age. Tooth wear can also increase with malocclusion or an unbalanced bite. The more severe the habit the more severe the wear. Eventually, teeth will wear through the outer layer or enamel. Without this hard outer layer, the teeth wear even faster as the softer dentin layer is exposed. Another common sign is abfraction. Abfraction of a tooth is when a groove or notch forms on the tooth surface, just above the gum line. This is caused by the repeated torquing of the tooth while grinding. Symptoms of bruxism include; jaw pain, neck pain, ear pain, tinnitus, insomnia, loose teeth, and gum recession.
Stress is the main cause of bruxism. This is not to say that someone who grinds their teeth is more stressed than someone who does not, but your “normal” or “average” grinding will definitely increase with increased stress. Other things that increase your bruxing are: other sleep disorders, malocclusion, alcohol, caffeine and some medications.
The most simple and non-invasive treatment for grinding is to wear an appliance or mouth guard. This mouth guard is typically worn to bed but, can also be worn during the day at times when you notice you are grinding (while driving, working on your computer, etc.). Massage therapy can also help. Medications such as muscle relaxants may provide some relief. More severe cases with advanced TMJ dysfunction may require surgery. After your dentist has evaluated your bite and symptoms, you can determine your best treatment options.
Dr. Robert J. Railton B.Sc.,D.D.S.