Affecting 30-40 million people in the US including children is the habit of bruxism; defined as the grinding and clenching of teeth. People may or may not be aware of this behavior. The ones who are not aware of this condition exhibit it at night. This is also termed as nocturnal bruxism or sleep related bruxism. This involuntary practice may happen even during the day and is often related to anxiety and stress. Some experts believe teeth grinding as, just a habit.
- Various causes exist, the commonest being stress and anxiety.
- It may also occur as a natural response due to misalignment of teeth.
- May also be a sign of some rare neuromuscular diseases.
- Side effects of drugs used to treat depression such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline)
Chronic bruxism in individuals may lead to fracture in dental fillings. Constant rubbing and clenching of teeth also leads to attrition with exposure of the dentine leading to sensitivity. Severe chronic teeth grinding may also cause headaches, facial pain and is a primary cause of dysfunction of the jaws.
Children between the ages of 3-10 years are commonly affected and tooth grinding is likely to stop by the age of 13 without intervention. In case of teenagers and adults, if stress is the primary cause, it can last for years. If the cause is dental related, teeth grinding will be stopped when the dental problem is resolved.
- Grinding sounds of the teeth that may cause disruption of sleep for the other person in the same room.
- Rhythmic tightening of the jaw muscles.
- Unexplained headaches in the morning
- Facial pain that lasts a long period.
- Pain on the jaw muscles and joint area.
- Attrited teeth and injured gums
- Fractured restorations
If in case you exhibit any of the above given symptoms, you should see a dentist immediately. You may be questioned regarding your dental health, stress and the medication you take. Your partner may be questioned about your sleeping habits, grinding sounds etc to make a diagnosis. Examination may also reveal tender jaw muscles and joints, broken teeth, restorations, missing and maligned teeth.
If dental problems are suspected to be the primary cause of your teeth grinding, a more detailed examination may need to be done such as the ‘the way your teeth occlude’ and a set of radiographs.
How to stop teeth grinding?
If you are highly stressed and grind your teeth for that reason, you ought to get professional counseling and learn relaxation techniques to minimize your stress. Stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco also need to be cut down.
In diagnosed children and adults, bite splints or bite plates are given to be worn at night. These are appliances used to prevent tooth grinding and further damage to teeth. Use of these teeth grinding guards reduces pressure on the joints and facial muscles. Hot compresses on the face may also soothe the pain and tightness.
If bruxism is stress related, counseling, psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques are advised along with muscle relaxants to prevent spasms of the jaw.
Dental problems– if you grind your teeth due to the abnormal positioning, then alignment may be necessary, corrected by braces. To alter the severely attrited teeth present, onlays or crowns may be necessary. Teeth grinding mouth guards also help in preventing further damage than that caused already. They may also help in realigning your jaws and teeth.
In case of side effects of medication such as antidepressants, a doctor should be consulted. He may change the medication given or give drugs to counteract bruxism.