What is bruxism?

Bruxism or teeth grinding affects around 10% of the population. Its symptoms include headaches, teeth grinding and jaw clenching. It affects both adults and children although the 25 to 45 age group are more commonly affected.

Many people grind their teeth in their sleep although it can happen at any time of the day. As a result of this it is classified into the following:

  • Day time (awake) bruxism
  • Night time (sleep) bruxism

Nocturnal (night time) bruxism is the more common of the two but difficult to diagnose as those patients are unaware that they grind their teeth in their sleep!

Bruxism can be very mild through to quite severe but the severe form will require treatment. If bruxism is left untreated then constant grinding wears down the teeth as well as causing jaw disorders such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).

What causes bruxism?

There are a variety of factors that cause bruxism. These include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Nervous tension
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Side effect of certain medications
  • Secondary results of certain medical conditions, e.g. Parkinson’s disease

Grinding the teeth is one symptom but others include pain in the jaw (around the jaw joints), headaches and earache, teeth sensitivity and rough inner surface of the cheeks (caused by chewing the inside of the mouth).

Signs of bruxism

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms then contact your dentist. He or she will be able to diagnose bruxism if you show any of the following:

  • Tight muscles or overdeveloped muscles in your jaw
  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches and/or earache
  • Chipped teeth
  • Broken teeth
  • Cracks in your teeth
  • Heightened tooth sensitivity
  • Roughness on the inside of your cheeks

Your dentist will look into the possible cause of your bruxism before determining a suitable course of treatment. If, for example, it is caused by stress then counselling may be more appropriate.

Treatment of bruxism

Patients who are stressed or feeling anxious may find that cognitive behavioural therapy or some form of counselling can help.

If you are a sportsman/woman who grinds their teeth whilst playing sport then a mouth guard can help. These are very similar to the ones worn by a boxer during a bout and are available over the counter as well as from your dentist. A splint can also help.

It may be the case that you have ‘malocclusion’. Malocclusion is the dental term used to describe problems with your ‘bite’ or the way that you bring your jaws together. When you bite down on something your jaws usually fit neatly together but with malocclusion your jaws are ‘out of synch’.

One example of malocclusion is an ‘overbite’: this is where the teeth in the upper jaw protrude over the teeth in the lower jaw.

Our orthodontics section discusses malocclusion in greater detail.
Treatment for malocclusion can include fitting a dental crown to a badly worn tooth or a brace to straighten misshapen teeth.

Muscle relaxants are another option but are rarely used.

Dentists will prefer to get at the root cause (excuse the pun!) of your teeth grinding before deciding upon a course of treatment.

Common Dental Problems Guide Index:

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