Do you ever find yourself unconsciously clenching your teeth during stressful moments?
You’re not alone in this habit. Many of us grind or clench our teeth every now and then, without experiencing any negative effects.
However, health problems occur when teeth grinding becomes a regular occurrence. This medical condition is called bruxism, and it impacts one in 10 people.
Our article explores the causes and side effects of tooth grinding, as well as effective treatment and prevention strategies.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- What is bruxism?
- What causes bruxism?
- Bruxism symptoms to look out for
- How to stop grinding teeth (treatment and prevention)
What is bruxism?
Teeth grinding, clinically known as bruxism, is a common dental concern that affects people of all ages.
Bruxism occurs when lower and upper teeth involuntarily rub together and put too much pressure on the jaw. Whether it happens during the day (awake bruxism) or while you’re asleep (nocturnal bruxism), this pressure can take a heavy toll on your teeth and lead to health complications in the short and long-term:
- Worn down enamel
- Cracked teeth
- Headaches and migraines
- Tooth sensitivity
- Persistent ear pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)
- Tooth loss (uncommon)
- Damaged fillings and crowns
- Altered facial appearance (due to changes in the muscle structure – this is rare)
Detecting bruxism can be tricky, especially since it primarily occurs during slumber, when we have less control over our muscles. Common indicators of bruxism include a sore jaw or disrupted sleep.
Let’s talk about more signs of teeth grinding that suggest you (or your child) should visit a dentist.
Bruxism symptoms to look out for
- Sore teeth, especially in the morning
- Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Tooth enamel is cracked
- Broken teeth
- Gnashing sound while sleeping
- Jaw pain or stiffness
- Ear pain
- Headache or migraine
- Jaw clenching when feeling tense while awake
Regular check-ups help your dentist to catch the early signs of bruxism.
They will examine your mouth for any red flags, and monitor your condition over multiple visits. You may be asked questions about your lifestyle. Why? Diet, exercise, sleep patterns and certain medications can all contribute to tooth grinding. You may be referred to a specialist for further testing, if your dentist suspects an underlying condition (like a sleep disorder) is responsible for the bruxism.
What causes bruxism?
Research shows that most cases of bruxism are caused by stress and anxiety.
People often clench or grind their teeth as a subconscious response to emotional tension. When we feel threatened, our bodies go into overdrive to produce higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Interestingly, cases of bruxism soared during the stressful COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a number of sources.
Although stress plays a big role in bruxism, there are other causes to consider:
A misaligned jaw (or crooked teeth) can contribute to bruxism. When the upper and lower jaws don’t align properly, excessive pressure is placed on certain teeth. In an attempt to find a more comfortable position, individuals may unconsciously grind or clench their teeth, especially during sleep. In such cases, orthodontic treatments usually alleviate bruxism symptoms and prevent long-term dental complications.
Obstructive sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders disrupt the normal sleep cycle, leading to increased muscle activity and tension, particularly in the jaw. In an attempt to alleviate discomfort, individuals may unconsciously grind their teeth. It’s crucial to address the underlying problem by seeing a sleep specialist.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies:
Deficiencies in minerals like magnesium, calcium and Vitamin D have been linked to bruxism. These essential nutrients play a crucial role in muscle function and nerve transmission, including those related to the jaw.
A balanced diet rich in magnesium and calcium can alleviate nutritional deficiencies. It’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis, and to develop an appropriate dietary and supplementation plan.
Various medical conditions can contribute to bruxism. Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Epilepsy and Huntington’s disease are a few known culprits. Other conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Down Syndrome, Pinworm infection, Addison’s Disease and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder have also been linked.
Additionally, certain medications (such as antidepressants) may lead to teeth grinding as a side effect. If this is a problem for you, ask your doctor if you can change to a different medication or lower the dosage.
How to stop grinding teeth (treatment and prevention)
Lifestyle changes are necessary when stress is the underlying cause of bruxism.
Meditating on a regular basis helps to drastically lower the stress response and induce a sense of calm. There are many types of meditation, including deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness activities and guided sessions. This article offers a variety of options you can try, some for free.
We also recommend booking a session with a psychologist or counsellor, if you have the financial means to do so. Speak to your doctor and ask if you’re eligible for the Medicare rebate, which gives you some money back for 10 psychological appointments a year.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate gentle physical exercise (such as walking) into your daily routine, and eat a balanced diet consisting largely of unprocessed foods. Cut back on stimulants like caffeine, and avoid excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption. A calming bedtime routine can make the world of difference to your stress levels too.
There are targeted exercises you can try to relax your jaw and tongue specifically:
Your dentist will give you more information, but here are a few simple exercises you can try straight away from the comfort of your home.
Botox injections relax the muscles involved in jaw clenching and teeth grinding. A small amount of botulinum toxin is injected into the jaw muscles, inhibiting excessive contraction. Although there’s little risk involved, Botox is a non-permanent solution that involves chemicals, so it should be a last resort for people who don’t respond well to other treatments.
Many people benefit from wearing a mouthguard while sleeping. These custom-fitted devices create a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth, preventing grinding during slumber. Mouthguards help distribute the forces exerted during bruxism, reducing the risk of dental damage and jaw pain. This non-invasive solution provides symptomatic relief and prevents further damage, but doesn’t address the root causes of bruxism.
Is your tooth grinding caused by a misaligned jaw or crooked teeth? Orthodontic treatments (like braces or Invisalign) effectively correct alignment problems over time. This lasting solution drastically reduces the chances of bruxism occurring.
Book an appointment with Advanced Dental in Cammeray:
Please don’t worry if you or your child has bruxism. Our highly qualified team is experienced at detecting and treating tooth grinding in adults and children. We will work together to find the best solution, and refer you to a relevant specialist if we suspect an underlying non-dental condition.
Is the appointment for your child?
In case you’re not aware, it’s possible to apply for government assistance that covers the cost of children’s dental treatments. Eligible families can benefit from the federal government’s Child Dental Benefits Scheme, offering up to $1052 for basic dental services for children under 17 (over a two-year period).
Call (02) 9922 6022 or fill out this form to book an appointment with our friendly team.