Bruxism was usually attributed to stress, but authorities today believe the cause may be an unconscious effort to correct irregularities of the chewing surface of the teeth. About 1 in 20 adults and 3 in 20 children unconsciously grind their teeth at night. If you grind your teeth, you can exert thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch on the surface of teeth, which can cause headaches, affect supporting bone, gums and the jaw joint. To correct this, your dentist may fit you with a plastic night guard to help prevent further damage.
What is bruxism?
Bruxism is the technical term for grinding and clenching that abrades teeth and may cause facial pain. People who grind and clench, called bruxers, unintentionally bite down too hard at inappropriate times, such as in their sleep. In addition to grinding teeth, bruxers also may bite their fingernails, pencils and chew the inside of their cheek. People usually aren't diagnosed with bruxism until it is too late because so many people don't realize they have the habit. Others mistakenly believe that their teeth must touch at all times. About one in four people suffer from bruxism which can easily be treated by a dentist.
Can bruxism cause harm?
People who have otherwise healthy teeth and gums can clench so hard that over time their teeth become sensitive and they experience jaw pain and headaches. Forceful biting when not eating may cause the jaw to move out of proper balance. As well, abfraction or fracture of the teeth near the gums can occur.
What are the signs?
When a person has bruxism the tips of the teeth look flat. Teeth are worn down so much that the enamel is rubbed off, exposing the inside of the tooth, which is called dentin. When exposed, dentin may feel sensitive. Bruxers may experience pain in their temporomandibular joint (TMJ) which may manifest itself as popping and clicking in the jaw. Women, who are more susceptible to TMJ, also have a higher prevalence to bruxism possibly because they are more likely to experience tissue alterations in the jaw resulting from clenching and grinding. Tongue indentations are also another sign of clenching.
Stress and certain personality types are at the root of bruxism. For as long as humankind has existed, bruxism has affected people with nervous tension. Anger, pain and frustration can trigger bruxism.
What can be done about it?
During regular dental visits your dentist will automatically check for physical signs of bruxism. If you or your dentist notice signs, the condition may be observed over several visits to be sure of the problem before recommending and starting therapy.
The objective of therapy is to get the bruxer to change behaviour by learning how to rest the tongue, teeth and lips properly. When some people become aware of their problem, simply advising them to rest their tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut may be enough to change their behaviour and relieve discomfort. However, your dentist can make a plastic mouth appliance, such as a night guard that is worn to absorb the force of biting which causes damage and pain, and also helps to change patient behaviour.