What is bruxism?
Do you grind your teeth at night? You might not even be aware that you do because it’s either a subconscious action or something you do when you’re asleep. The medical term for teeth grinding is “bruxism,” and it’s estimated that up to 10% of people suffer from it while they sleep.
Bruxism isn’t just a bad or irritating habit—the latest research shows that it can actually lead to a whole host of dental issues, and the causes behind it are worth looking into, too.
But what are the symptoms and causes of bruxism? And what can you do about it?
What are some bruxism symptoms?
If you grind your teeth in your sleep, you may have been informed of the fact by your partner. But if you’re not sure and are wondering whether you’re grinding or clenching your teeth at night, there are a few symptoms to look out for that you may not naturally attribute to bruxism, such as:
- Waking up with jaw pain.
- Consistent, dull headache.
- Jaw stiffness or locking.
- Tense face or jaw.
On top of these symptoms, there may be dental issues, like loose teeth, tooth pain, cracking, and flattening.
Speak to your dentist if you are concerned that you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep.
What causes bruxism?
While it’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause for teeth grinding, there are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of the condition. Oftentimes, it’s a combination of more than one of the following factors.
The most common, and most significant, contributing factor to bruxism is stress. A normal human response when in a stressful situation is to clench your teeth. This goes for physical stress and emotional stress. In fact, other common responses to stress such as nail-biting and lip chewing are linked to bruxism.
This behavior is carried over into your sleep, so if you have a stressful job, or suffer from anxiety, you’re more likely to grind your teeth at night.
Inconsistent Sleep Patterns
It’s well-known that regular, consistent sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body. Conversely, a poor sleep pattern can bring on a whole host of issues alongside the expected tiredness. Changing sleep patterns are a contributory factor toward bruxism, as is any disruption during sleep. You can help improve your sleep patterns by setting a regular bedtime routine, limiting the consumption of caffeine and sugar before bed, and practicing some relaxing (non-screen-based) habits at night.
There is evidence to suggest that bruxism can run in the family. If you have some of the symptoms of sleep bruxism, speak to your family members and ask if any of them suffer from it too. If they do, there’s a greater chance that bruxism is the cause of the symptoms you’re encountering.
How is bruxism diagnosed?
The condition will be diagnosed differently depending on what type of professional medical help you choose.
If you see a doctor about the condition, they may offer to carry out a sleep analysis called polysomnography. This is an overnight study and can help diagnose bruxism among many other sleep disorders. It can be an expensive way to get a diagnosis, so it may only be worth your while if there are a number of sleep issues you are facing, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
Your dentist will look at the symptoms and your individual circumstances (such as reports from a partner) and will usually be comfortable with diagnosing bruxism based solely on those factors.
Is it harmful?
Bruxism isn’t something that will definitely cause harm to everyone who grinds their teeth, but there are significant consequences that can arise, especially if it goes undiagnosed for a long time.
Dental damage is the most common effect of bruxism. This can range from chipping and cracking of the teeth, to teeth movement and jaw pain. Fillings, crowns, and implants could also be affected.
Someone with poor dental health, either through lack of care or a diet high in sugar and acid, will likely face more severe effects of bruxism than someone with healthy teeth.
Alongside the dental issues, bruxism can take its toll on the jaw too. The excessive force placed on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) over time can give rise to issues with pain, stiffness, and even locking.
What can you do about it?
Thankfully, bruxism and its consequences aren’t something you just need to learn to live with. There are measures you can take to manage it and decrease the frequency of teeth grinding.
While it’s ideal but impossible to completely eliminate stress from your life, there is absolutely no shame in seeking help with stress management. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be very effective at helping with stress and anxiety.
Have a think about your life and whether there are particular areas causing you stress. Sometimes, even just being aware of where the stress is coming from can make it feel more manageable.
A night guard is an appliance that is custom made for you. When you wear it at night, it acts as a barrier, protecting your teeth from the effects of grinding and clenching. This is a very practical way to manage the consequences of teeth grinding. So while it may not directly treat bruxism, you can protect your teeth from the damage it can cause with a mouthpiece or night guard.
There are medications available that can help reduce the severity of bruxism. Your doctor may suggest a muscle relaxant that you take before you go to sleep. This will lessen the intensity of any jaw clenching and tooth grinding that you do unconsciously. Always speak to your doctor or dentist about what treatment will work best for you.
It’s important to address bruxism.
Bruxism is a common condition, but it varies in severity from person to person, so there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for it. You don’t have to cope with this uncomfortable condition alone. The best way to start seeking help with grinding or clenching is to talk to your dentist. We are here to help if you think your teeth grinding habit could be problematic or if you’ve noticed a few familiar symptoms in this article and you want some advice.