Although most people probably have been teeth ”grinders” or “clenchers” at some point in their lives. Those who regularly engage in these poor oral habits may have a medical condition known as “Bruxism” which is a term used to describe the involuntary or habitual grinding of the teeth.
Because teeth grinding usually occurs at night while asleep, many people are unaware that they have this condition. However, studies have shown that roughly 50 to 95 percent of the adult population suffer from bruxism. Additionally, research strongly suggests that approximately 15 percent of all children may eventually begin grinding and clenching their teeth. Unfortunately, those who are diagnosed with bruxism have been known to experience many harmful and unwanted side effects.
Who is at Risk for Teeth Grinding?
From a small toddler to an elderly adult, anyone with teeth is at risk for bruxism. Despite the statistics associated with teeth grinding and clenching, the exact cause of this prevalent condition is unknown. However, it is linked to a number of issues such as snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, anxiety, stress, caffeine and alcohol to name a few. It may also be the result of jaw posture/tooth positions, an abnormal bite, certain lifestyle activities, emotional/development disorders, select medications/drugs and trauma.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
- Muscle pain
- Tooth sensitivity
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
- Gum recession
- Jaw tenderness
- Shortened teeth
As the years gradually progress, many people who suffer from bruxism will experience the harmful effects of teeth grinding and clenching. This condition can produce an extensive range of unwanted long-term consequences including nerve damage, loose teeth, micro-cracks/broken fillings, frequent headaches, mouth swelling, and neck pain. While a cure for bruxism does not currently exist, many of these symptoms can be managed with customized treatment.
One of the most popular and practical solutions is the use of a bite plate during sleep and naps. Slightly resembling a soft night guard, the custom-fitted piece acts as a bumper in the mouth by absorbing the impact of the teeth clenching and grinding.
Night guards were once a great treatment for bruxism; however, many studies have indicated that the device may not protect the muscles and jaw joints as well as the teeth. Unlike soft night guards which many people have accidentally chewed during their sleep, bite plates are made of hard acrylic and, as a result, these custom-fitted pieces are the best solution to common teeth grinding problems.
Another bruxism treatment is the application of a custom-fitted oral appliance. As an alternative to the bite plate, an oral appliance is designed to mitigate airway obstruction. Some other possible solutions to teeth grinding and clenching include surgery, medication adjustments, dental work, muscle relaxers or botulism toxin, diet alterations, postural modifications and orthodontics. Engaging in stress-free activities such as psychotherapy, vacations, massages, yoga, and biofeedback may also reduce some of the harmful effects associated with bruxism.
Once the underlying cause of teeth grinding and clenching is determined, some of the symptoms of bruxism can be tolerable. Those who suffer from this condition are strongly advised to consult with a dentist in order to determine the best course of long-term treatment.