Bruxism is another way of saying "tooth grinding"...But who can define it better than the Mayo Clinic? :
"Bruxism (BRUK-siz-um) is a condition in which you grind, gnash or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth together during the day, or clench or grind them at night (sleep bruxism)."
There, you even know how to pronounce it now!
Bruxism and clenching are annoyances. If a rare or occasional habit, it can be without consequences. Unfortunately, for numerous people it is a frequent, or even chronic, condition. It happens night after night, done involuntarily during sleep, and can also extend during day time as an almost uncontrollable habit. There is something special about the jaw muscles: As much as one would be unable to keep contracted a biceps or triceps for an extended period of time, jaw muscles can be kept under tension for hours upon hours...
Over time, it can lead to headaches, muscle and diffuse aches in facial structures, jaw and joint disorders (the dreaded "TMJ"), and significant dental damages that may require a lot of treatments.
The Mayo Clinic lists a long list of possible symptoms:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to awaken your sleep partner
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Jaw or face pain or soreness
- Tired or tight jaw muscles
- Pain that feels like an earache, though it's actually not a problem with your ear
- Dull headache originating in the temples
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
- Indentations on your tongue
What causes bruxism is not totally clear, but it certainly seems to be associated mostly as a physical output to psychological causes: stress, anxiety and tension in general, anger, frustration or other emotional issues. Studies have shown college students (often used as guinea pigs!) "grinding" like crazy before big exams, and losing the habit while on vacation! There also used to be a dental school of thought focused on eliminating all "occlusal interferences"...Although anyone who has had a "high" filling or something stuck in a tooth will attest, the jaws certainly become hyperactive until the protrusion is gone...However the "search for a perfect occlusion" mostly went out of style and is not really seen nowadays as a main cause of clenching or grinding. Babies (and rabbits!) tend to grind their teeth when in pain. Some rare medications (psychiatric in general) seem to induce the phenomenon.
Some factors appear to increase the risks of bruxism in a person: Stress (again), age (more prevalent in children, tends to resolve over the teen years), an "A-type" (aggressive, competitive or hyperactive) personality, sleep apnea, and the usual culprits that will over-stimulate you (tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy!)
There are multiple treatments that have been described for bruxism:
- Medications have been disappointing in general, and often brought too many side effects (for example, being sleepy all the time because of muscle relaxants).
- Getting rid of one's stress is a great idea...But not always easy to do! Stress management, biofeedback and behavior therapy can help with that on occasion. Unfortunately, moving to Shangri-La or a Tibetan Monastery to meditate all day is not for everyone!
- In SOME cases, clearly misaligned teeth may be improved by Dr. Ashba, and this may help with the condition...
- OCCLUSAL APPLIANCES or "Night Guards" is what we have seen having a very positive effect. It is a thin hard acrylic plate that is worn covering the upper (usually) or the lower teeth. It is custom-made by the dentist, "clips" on the teeth, and creates a smooth surface on which the teeth will skid instead of grind. It seems to "take the fun out of grinding" for the brain, and tends to fight the intensity or duration of the process. We also like to say that although we have seen a lot of people with tremendous improvements, if nothing else, it prevents a lot of damages to the teeth...The cost of such a plate is minimal compared to the cost of repairing several or all teeth.
A regular dental examination is still the best way to identify the signs of bruxism in your teeth and jaw structures! Please let Dr. Ashba know if you suspect a clenching/bruxism problem.
CALL US TODAY FOR AN APPOINTMENT! (518) 371-0636