Life can be stressful. Today’s fast-paced and demanding world expects so much of us. And, sadly, life isn’t getting any easier. Stress levels have been on the rise in the United States, with about three-quarters of adults reporting experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the past month.
Which brings us to our blog for this month, bruxism. Bruxism is a medical condition characterized by the involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth, especially during sleep. It is a fairly common condition that affects both adults and children and can lead to some dental problems, such as excessive wear and tear of teeth, jaw pain, headaches, and even tooth loss. In severe cases, bruxism can also cause damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jaw to the skull, leading to chronic pain and discomfort.
You’re probably wondering why we started this blog talking about stress. Well, while the exact cause of bruxism is not known, it is often associated with stress, anxiety, and certain medications, such as those taken to treat ADHD.
Bruxism is a Natural Response to Stress
When a person is under stress, they may clench their jaw muscles, leading to grinding and clenching of teeth. This is because the body’s natural response to stress is to increase muscle tension, which can lead to excessive grinding and clenching of the teeth, even during sleep. Over time, all that grinding and clenching will lead to broken, fractured teeth or teeth worn down to little tooth nubs. Restored teeth are not immune, as bruxism can lead to cracked fillings, crowns, and even the destruction of root-canaled teeth and dental implants. In severe cases, gum tissue and bone can begin to pull away from the teeth. Chronic headaches are another symptom of bruxism.
Now, let’s talk about tension. If you bite down on something while awake, your brain is smart enough to regulate how hard you bite down. When you sleep, however, it’s a free-for-all. Studies have shown that people with bruxism can exert up to six times the normal amount of force on their teeth while clenching and grinding. This can result in significant wear and tear on the teeth and lead to dental problems or jaw pain. Ever wake up with an achy jaw or a headache? You may have bruxism. Don’t have a headache? You may still have bruxism.
The problem with bruxism is that it is a stealthy tooth destroyer. Most people with bruxism have no idea they are clenching and grinding their teeth until things go south or their friendly dentist informs them they can see visible the damage all that unconscious grinding and clenching is doing.
The most common treatment option for bruxism is wearing a night guard. You probably know someone who wears one. While night guards are an excellent treatment option that we have made for patients regularly, they are a band-aid and help stop the destruction of teeth. They don’t, however, address the underlying issue of why the grinding and clenching is happening.
At Living Dental Health, we believe in root-cause medicine. This means we work to get to the bottom of an issue. Why is bruxism happening in the first place? Are you an overly anxious person? Are you under a lot of stress lately? Have a high school senior trying to decide where to go to college and how to pay for it (how did college become so expensive, anyway)? Sorry for squirreling. Discovering the reason for the problem will allow Dr. Andy to make more informed treatment recommendations. What we know of bruxism is that the majority of cases are caused by stress. So, if you are stressed, we must identify how to get you calmer. Now, you may think your dentist doesn’t really care about your mental health, but you’re wrong. Your mental health impacts your oral health.
Here are some tips for treating bruxism that you can control:
- Ask your dentist if your teeth show signs of clenching or grinding when you come for a cleaning and exam.
- If the symptoms of bruxism are present, try to manage your stress. (I know, easier said than done, but try to incorporate lifestyle changes to mitigate stress, such as meditation, exercise, or therapy).
- Recognize that bruxism is a habit that you cannot control while sleeping.
- Wear a night guard if your symptoms persist.
To summarize, many people do not realize they are clenching and grinding their teeth until damage to the teeth has been done. Mindfulness check: are you clenching your jaw or holding it taut as you read this? If you don’t know if you are doing it (clenching and grinding your teeth, that is), ask your dentist when you see him. If you do know you are doing it, don’t ignore it. And wear a darn night guard! We have had a few patients who have night guards that sit beside them on their bedside tables while they sleep. Dental secret: night guards are nocturnal – they sleep during the day and work at night, helping keep your teeth from breaking.
But seriously, if you have questions about bruxism, please contact us. If you are due for an appointment, please contact us. We want to help and are here for you. Now, do a big yawn, stretching your jaw by opening your mouth wide. Hold it for five seconds, and then relax. Ahhhh, does your jaw feel a little better?