Waking up with jaw pain, a headache, or sore teeth is a sign that you may suffer from bruxism, or grinding and clenching of your teeth. Although it’s often difficult to determine the exact cause of bruxism, understanding the factors involved and ways you can handle the problem will help you reduce discomfort, pain, and potential damage to your teeth.
Definition of Bruxism
Bruxism is a condition where a person clenches or grinds their teeth together, usually without realizing it. It most often occurs at night while the person is sleeping, but can happen at any time of day. Many times, the condition is mild enough that it doesn’t require treatment, but more severe cases should be treated because grinding can cause pain and tooth damage. Bruxism damages the teeth by wearing them down, causing fractures or chipping, and loosening dental work. It can also cause headaches, jaw pain, neck pain, and temporomandibular joint disorder, a problem that involves swelling and tenderness of the chewing muscles in the jaw. Bruxism is a common condition that affects both children and adults; approximately 30 to 40 million people suffer from it in the United States.
Signs and Symptoms
People often don’t realize they grind their teeth until someone hears them doing so while they are sleeping. However, there are a number of signs that indicate you may suffer from bruxism, including the following:
- Tight and painful jaw muscles
- Waking up with a headache
- Sore teeth
- Rhythmic contractions of your jaw muscles
- Earaches without an ear infection
- Grinding sounds at night
- Long-lasting facial pain
- Occasional swelling along the side of the lower jaw
If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your dentist to talk about the possibility of bruxism.
Causes of Teeth Grinding and Clenching
It’s often hard to discover the precise cause of a person’s bruxism, but a number of factors frequently contribute to the problem. Stress is thought to be a leading cause of bruxism, along with anxiety, tension, and frustration. If your teeth are not correctly aligned, that can also contribute to the problem. Your dentist can help you narrow down the causes of your bruxism to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.
Bruxism in Children
Teeth grinding is often seen among children as well as adults. It’s often caused by similar factors such as stress, problems at school, or misaligned teeth. If you notice your child grinding or clenching their teeth, have them evaluated by a dentist. Getting the problem under control as quickly as possible minimizes the risk of damage to permanent teeth. Your dentist can help create an appropriate treatment plan for your child, but helping them relax before bedtime with a gentle massage, warm bath, bedtime story, or warm milk is often beneficial.
Dealing with Bruxism
There are a number of steps you can take to deal with bruxism and work to stop grinding your teeth. Usually, a combination of methods is the most effective way to treat the problem. Incorporating some of the following treatment methods into your normal routine can help you manage the condition.
Learning to manage your stress levels helps reduce bruxism. Including relaxation techniques in your daily routine and quieting your brain before bed can help you deal with stress. Consider trying some of these techniques to help you manage stress:
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed
- Seek professional help with counseling
- Exercise regularly
- Drink a cup of chamomile or other soothing herbal tea in the evening
Wear a Night Guard
A night guard is a hard, clear acrylic guard that is worn over the teeth at night to prevent grinding while you sleep. It doesn’t treat the problem, but instead protects your teeth from the damage done by grinding them together. Night guards are available over-the-counter, but it’s usually best to see your dentist to have one made. Custom night guards fit better, are more comfortable, and are higher quality. The process for getting a custom night guard is simple; your dentist takes an impression of your teeth and sends it to a dental laboratory where they make a custom night guard to fit your mouth.
If your teeth are misaligned, then correcting the alignment may help with your bruxism. Orthodontics and braces can be used to correct bite and tooth alignment problems. If your teeth are already worn down due to grinding, then crowns, overlays, or other reconstructive treatments can help improve your bite.
Caffeine and other stimulating substances can interfere with your sleep and make you more likely to clench your teeth at night. Caffeinated tea, coffee, soda, and chocolate should be avoided after dinner; alcohol should also be avoided in the evening because it has a negative impact on your sleep quality.
Occasionally, your dentist may recommend using a muscle relaxant to keep your jaw relaxed at night. Drugs like these can be habit forming, so always follow your dentist’s instructions carefully.
Handling Tooth Sensitivity
Bruxism can lead to tooth sensitivity because it wears away the enamel and makes your teeth vulnerable. If you are experiencing sensitivity, then using the right oral care products may help. Oral Essentials Sensitivity Toothpaste and Mouthwash are specifically designed with natural ingredients to protect your teeth and reduce sensitivity.
Grinding your teeth can cause pain and damage to your teeth. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to deal with the problem and protect your teeth and smile.
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