Bruxism is the technical term for the involuntary habit of teeth grinding and clenching. As the signs of bruxism may go unnoticed until teeth have been worn down or injured, the condition itself can often be difficult to diagnose. This blog post will cover the long-term effects of teeth grinding and clenching, including the symptoms and signs to look out for, as well as the causes and risk factors, along with strategies to avoid it and the potential treatments available.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is teeth grinding and teeth clenching that occurs when a person either consciously or subconsciously presses their teeth together, which causes the teeth to grind against one another.
About 50% of people grind their teeth to some extent – whether in their sleep or while awake – however, regular, problematic teeth grinding only occurs in about 5% of the population.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Some of the main signs of bruxism may include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Sore teeth
- A clicking jaw joint (TMJ), and aching or stiffness in the jaw
- Pain in the cheeks or around the ears
- Increased temperature sensitivity to the teeth
- Cracked tooth enamel (the top layer of teeth)
- Gum damage
- Changes in the bite
Causes of Bruxism
The primary causes of teeth grinding and clenching are not always clear, but some risk factors are more common among those who suffer from the condition – these include:
- Stress, depression or anxiety disorders
- Age – as bruxism is particularly prevalent in young children
- Overconsumption of alcohol – can cause dehydration as well as an interruption of sleep patterns
- Caffeine intake
- Smoking – can overstimulate your jaw muscles
- Snoring – the restriction of air flow can lead to a tightening of your jaw muscle
- Taking recreational stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines
- Medications – certain medications such as antidepressants can overstimulate, as can those for your thyroid, or asthma drugs that contain the stimulant ephedrine sulfate – which can be found in Ephedra supplements as well
- A side effect to menopause or premenstrual dysphoric disorder in women
- Family history
- Teeth that are misaligned, or poorly fitted dental work
Some studies have also shown that sleep apnea – a disorder in which one’s breathing can periodically stop and restart while sleeping – can be a contributing factor to bruxism. This is largely because the airways of a person with sleep apnea will constrict and result in an increase of stress levels, to which the body will often respond by subconsciously grinding or clenching the teeth.
A lack of oxygen can also cause a person to clench their teeth, disrupting normal sleeping patterns and leading to poor sleep quality, another common bruxism trigger.
The Long-Term Effects of Bruxism
While in many cases, teeth grinding will not lead to serious damage, it is vital to treat any short-term symptoms in their early stages to prevent an unwanted impact in the long run.
When it comes to long-term damage, bruxism can lead to prolonged dental problems such as tooth sensitivity and gum recession – two conditions that bruxism most commonly contributes to.
Bruxism can also be the precursor to a painful condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). This occurs when the joints in your jaw become swollen and inflamed because of bruxism, and the pain from TMJ worsens when you open or close your mouth, or when you chew.
Another potential issue to be aware of is long-term damage like cracks and chips in the enamel on your front teeth. Your teeth can age prematurely as a result of regular grinding, leading to a wearing away of the protective layer of enamel, after which it cannot be replaced. Without its protection, your teeth are more susceptible to an influx of harmful bacteria that can lead to cavities, as well as affecting the sensitivity of your teeth to hot and cold foods or liquids.
Over time, teeth grinding that goes untreated for too long can also lead to gum recession (gum loss), as well as increased stress put on teeth resulting in tooth loss. Gum recession can lead to teeth being more sensitive and becoming more susceptible to decay from carbohydrates in the diet, as well as teeth shifting or eventually falling out.
How to Treat Bruxism
Today, most dentists agree that the best treatment for chronic teeth clenching is wearing custom-made dental night guards or mouthguards. These guards protect your teeth and the joints of your jaw to prevent bruxism from damaging teeth.
If you prefer not to wear a mouthguard, see your dentist for other bruxism management techniques like stress reduction or relaxation therapies. If you grind your teeth at night while sleeping, it’s important to talk with your doctor, such as those at Australian Dental Specialists, about sleep-specific treatments.
Other common methods for treatment include injections into the muscles of the jaw to relieve stiffness and tension at nighttime, medications such as Valium or Xanax if teeth grinding is caused by anxiety or depression, and teeth that are fitted with crowns to prevent wear from teeth grinding.
What Can You Do to Prevent Teeth Grinding?
Although treatment options are available, bruxism should ideally be avoided, or at the very least halted at its early stages before it becomes a serious issue.
There are several ways in which teeth grinding or clenching can be prevented. These include stress-relieving activities such as meditation and yoga, as, if you are having teeth grinding due to stress in your life, then it may be the cause for that pain and discomfort rather than just teeth grinding itself. If you find natural remedies to be insufficient in reducing your stress, medication should be considered.
It’s important to try and get enough sleep at night, given that a lack of shut-eye can trigger bruxing episodes in many cases. If you grind or clench your teeth on a regular basis, your dentist may recommend muscle relaxants to help you relax your jaw muscles during the day.
Avoid unnecessary chewing on things such as ice, pencils or gum, and if you are conscious of a teeth grinding issue during the day, you can try relaxing your jaw by placing your tongue between your teeth to prevent yourself from biting.
Practicing good oral hygiene is, as ever, highly recommended, including brushing twice a day and flossing daily, while if your bruxism is a side effect of another medical condition or a medication, it’s vital that you consult with your doctor about alternative treatments.