Teeth grinding, or Bruxism as it's officially known, is one of those tricky conditions that you could be suffering from without even knowing it. An involuntary clenching, grinding and gnashing of the teeth, it doesn't always display its symptoms in ways that are immediately noticeable.
Most people aren't even aware they are grinding their teeth until their partners tell them or advanced symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches and worn down, sensitive teeth start to emerge.
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is the conscious or unconscious grinding or clenching of teeth. It happens most often in children. About 20% to 30% of children grind their teeth, usually while asleep. You may have heard your child doing it at night. Sometimes, children will grind their teeth during the day when they feel anxious. The good news is, most children will eventually stop grinding their teeth. This often happens around the time they lose their baby teeth.
After teething, grinding can occur for the same reasons as in adults (for example, because of an imperfect bite, stress or anxiety). Bruxism is thought to be more common around the time of school exams.
Doctors don’t always know what causes teeth grinding. Bruxism in children is more common in those diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder or health issues, such as cerebral palsy. Certain medicines can also cause it. For some children, teeth grinding occurs because their teeth are not aligned properly.
In older children or adults, it may be linked to daily stress. Whether or not it causes symptoms can depend on many things. These include:
It has been estimated that nearly 70% of bruxism occurs as a result of stress or anxiety that is affecting people subconsciously during sleep. Stress and anxiety can be related to the high demands of a job or difficult life events.
Bruxism can also occur as a result of taking certain antidepressants used to treat depression and anxiety.
Bruxism can be related to an abnormal bite. This is when there is a problem with your top and bottom teeth coming together (called an occlusal discrepancy). Having teeth that are missing or crooked can also prompt you to grind your teeth.
In most people, although an abnormal bite can be identified by a dentist, removing the problem is not guaranteed to stop any symptoms.
Bruxism may be more prevalent in people who indulge in:
Bruxism can occur as a side effect of taking certain medications. These include some psychotropic drugs (medicines that affect your mood), such as antidepressants and antipsychotics.
Bruxism may be linked to a type of antidepressant known as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Types of SSRI include paroxetine, fluoxetine and setraline. Consult your doctor before you stop taking any medication.
What makes working out if you grind your teeth so challenging is that while you may have some symptoms when you first wake up, they can quickly disappear; and if you grind teeth during waking hours, symptoms won't be noticeable until later in the day.
So what should you be looking out for?
Even if you're not sure that teeth grinding is responsible for the symptoms you're experiencing, telling your dentist as soon as you suspect something’s wrong means they can perform a diagnosis and devise possible treatment options.
All those niggling, sometime painful symptoms may be pointers to even worse damage being done. Teeth grinding places a lot of pressure on your teeth, cracking their protective enamel, fracturing them and breaking things like crowns and fillings, while placing great stress on your jaws joints and muscles.
Teeth grinding can create numerous problems such as local muscular pain, headaches, loss of tooth structure, gum recession, loose teeth, shortening of teeth, tooth sensitivity, cracked and broken teeth, damage to the bone structure of the jaw joint with temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ syndrome), and even facial changes. Children that grind due to a breathing airway problem can have developmental issues.
A physical exam can usually tell your doctor or dentist if you or you have been grinding your teeth. Your doctor will notice the appearance of worn teeth and enamel. Medical professionals often consider teeth grinding as a diagnosis when a patient complains of any facial or oral pain, including soreness while chewing. An exam can also rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as ear infections.
A sleep study is recommended to rule out an airway issue because grinding occurs mostly at night while sleeping. If a poor airway is a contributing factor then treatment can be offered for the airway first and sometimes the teeth grinding will cease. Every situation of teeth grinding is managed uniquely, but often a mouth guard fitted by a dentist is helpful. The mouth guard is worn when sleeping to protect the teeth from grinding. Dietary changes, postural modifications, emotional therapy, medications, injections, tooth adjustments and dental work, orthodontics, surgery, are various treatments used.
Based on the patient's specific symptoms and stressors, physicians may take the following approaches:
In many children, bruxism is their natural reaction to growth and development. These cases can’t be prevented. But stress-related teeth grinding in children and adults can be avoided. Setting a calming bedtime routine is the first step you can take to avoid teeth grinding. Help your child relax at night:
Reducing stress is important. Talk with your child regularly about his or her feelings. Help them deal with stress. If you are suffering from bruxism, take steps to reduce stress in your life. Talk to a friend, family member, or counselor about what is causing you stress. Try to eliminate stressors if you can.
Teeth clenching or grinding is not dangerous. Most children will outgrow it. But it can cause uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with daily life. There are steps you can take to reduce and prevent pain. Home care tips include:
If self-care steps don’t help after several weeks and you are still experiencing symptoms, call your family doctor.
The prognosis for teeth grinding can very good, especially if the underlying cause can be determined. If it cannot, then at least wearing a properly fitting mouth guard can protect the teeth from further damage and often lessen the effects on the bone, muscle, and tissues. Babies and toddlers grinding their teeth should always have an airway evaluation.