What is Bruxism, or Grinding of the Teeth/Jaw Clenching



The habit of bruxism can be as devious as a thief in the night. You may not even be aware you're doing it, but if you suffer from this condition, the resulting damage to your teeth, gums and jawbone will soon let you know.

The practice of unconscious tooth-grinding usually begins in early childhood and can affect an estimated 15 children out of every hundred. In most cases, the habit will begin to wane as the person ages, but while it continues, it can extract a serious price on dental health. By the time a habitual tooth-grinder has reached the age of 25, he will likely have lost up to two millimeters of tooth enamel as opposed to the 0.03 millimeters lost by non-grinders every 10 years.

The daytime variety of bruxism usually consists of little more than clenching. Nighttime bruxing is much worse. Its rhythmic jaw contractions and sustained periods of grinding can subject the teeth to as much as 250 pounds of pressure for up to 40 minutes out of every hour all night long.

Since you're asleep, it will happen without your knowledge, but you can be sure that your partner or roommates will hear it. They may complain in the morning, but it's hard to stop doing something when you don't even know you're doing it.

Bruxism's Toll on Your Dental Health

It goes without saying that over the years, this amount of stress on the teeth, gums and jaws can result in serious damage. Sufferers often experience:

  • Worn front teeth.
  • Broken or missing fillings.
  • Cracked enamel.
  • Receding gums.
  • Periodontal disease.
  • Exposed dentin.
  • Sensitivity to cold and hot substances.
  • Headaches.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder.

The Causes of Bruxism

While some cases of bruxism occur apart from any specific cause, others have their basis in a known physical, environmental or psychiatric disorder. Some of these common secondary instigators may include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Street drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine.
  • Depression, anxiety, tension, anger or frustration.
  • The heavy use of caffeine, tobacco and alcohol.
  • Epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other medical conditions.

Issues such as snoring and sleep apnea frequently have an association with bruxism, and some cases have a genetic or familial basis.

Help for Bruxism Sufferers

Because it happens so often during sleep, a person can't do much to stop it while it is taking place. However, there are some things you can do about it while you are awake. For example, if stress is at the root of the problem, you could try such tension-relievers as yoga, physical therapy, jogging, dancing and aerobic exercise. A prescription muscle relaxant could do the trick, and stress counseling might be another option.

You can also try to:

  • Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated foods and drinks.
  • Drink more water.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Deliberately relax your jaw and facial muscles during the day.
  • Refrain from chewing pencils, gum or anything other than actual food.
  • Make a conscious effort not to clench your teeth.

If an existing sleep disorder is at the root of your troubles, its treatment can alleviate the problem. In addition, holding a warm towel or washcloth along the jawline before going to sleep can help to relax the muscles and may lessen the tendency to grind the teeth after you fall asleep.

What Your Dentist Can Do

If you are in the habit of grinding or clenching your teeth either at night or during the day, it's time to have a word with your dentist. A bruxism evaluation can determine the extent to which the habit has damaged your teeth, your jaw and your gums. Your dentist can also:

  • Provide a mouth guard or splint that fits over your teeth and prevents them from making contact.
  • Realign any crooked teeth.
  • Reshape your chewing surfaces.
  • Perform oral surgery.
  • Fit you with braces.

Biofeedback, stress management and behavior therapies may also play a role in correcting the problem.

If you are in the habit of grinding your teeth, it's important to do whatever you can to alleviate or entirely correct the situation. Although there is no cure for the condition, there are management techniques, and Dr. James White can help. Don't let the damage get any worse. Call Dr. White at 702-562-8833 for your bruxism evaluation today.