Most people refer to bruxism as “grinding” or “gritting” the teeth. When you “brux”, you tightly clamp your top and bottom teeth together, especially your back teeth. Many people who clench also grind their teeth at the same time. Grinding is when you slide your teeth over each other, generally in a sideways, back-and-forth movement. Many people clench and grind their teeth during the day, but the nighttime bruxing is of most concern, because it is harder to control and can lead to eventual jaw, tooth and gum damage.
Experts don’t agree on what causes bruxism. Some researchers believe that it’s caused by a bite that is not correctly aligned, while others believe it is a central nervous system disorder. Children frequently exhibit bruxism behaviors in response to pain and discomfort of illnesses such as colds, ear infections or allergies. Excess intake of alcoholic beverages may affect your level of grinding and clenching, and stress is also a huge factor in bruxing, with most experts saying that you may show elevated stress levels in your mouth before any other area of your body. Many experts believe it’s a combination of these and other problems and that different people brux for different reasons.
Almost everyone “grinds their teeth.” The problem is the degree of bruxing. Some people only grind their teeth a bit and show few symptoms, but for those who brux frequently and over a period of many years, the effects on teeth and the surrounding structures of gums and bone can be severe.
The pressure that you can apply to your teeth can range from 100 to 600 pounds per square inch! Severe bruxism can result in wearing or breaking of teeth, sensitive or loose teeth, receding gums, loss of supporting bone around the teeth, bony ridges in the gums, cheek irritation, sore muscles, headaches, earaches and TMJ (temporomandibular jaw) dysfunction. Pain caused by bruxism can also lead to insomnia, depression and even eating disorders.
If you or a family member shows signs or sounds of bruxism, ask your dentist for an evaluation. An examination will rule out disorders, such as an ear infection, that could be causing the symptoms. Once a diagnosis is made, the goals of treatment are to ease pain, prevent damage to teeth and surrounding areas, and reduce bruxism behavior as much as possible.
To prevent damage, your dentist may prescribe a mouth guard or some other appliance, such as a splint, for you to wear at night. Appliances may protect teeth from the pressure of clenching and may even reduce clenching, however some patients find that it makes their bruxism worse. There is no one cure-all for bruxism, so it may take a team effort between you and your dentist and perhaps other dental professionals, such as an orthodontist, to find the cure for your problem.
Just remember that bruxism is not a dangerous disorder and that with conscious effort and professional help, you can prevent damage to your oral and overall health.