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Bruxism is the excessive clenching and/or grinding of the teeth. Left unaddressed, more severe cases of bruxism can cause jaw problems, tooth damage and even tooth loss, headaches, and other issues. Some people grind or clench their teeth in their sleep, which is considered a type of sleep related disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Bruxism

  • Tight or tired jaw muscles
  • Pain or soreness in the jaw or face
  • Dull headache originating in the temples
  • Sore and raw spots from chewing the insides of your cheeks
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Worn tooth enamel, or teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
  • Grinding or clenching that your sleeping partner may be able to hear and may even wake them up

Any of the reasons above should prompt you to see your dentist to see what is going on.

Possible Causes of Bruxism

Doctors and dentists don’t know exactly what causes bruxism, but many patients have reported the following physical or psychological issues around the time the bruxism began or became worse:

  • Feelings of anxiety, stress, aggression, fear, or tension
  • Malocclusion, or the misalignment of the upper and lower jaws
  • In children, may be a response to an earache or teething
  • Acid reflux disease during sleep
  • Unusual side effects from certain medications, diseases or disorders
  • Presence of substances which may stimulate or exacerbate bruxism, including smoking, excessive drinking of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, abuse of drugs such as ecstasy or methamphetamine

Bruxism Evaluations & Treatment Options

Sometimes your doctor may ask you questions during a regular checkup visit that indicate he or she may think you may be grinding or clenching your teeth, based their physical and visual examination, which may include observations of some of the warning signs of bruxism.  If these symptoms or conditions are new, they may ask if you have been experiencing any stress or issues relating to your sleep.  Your doctor may feel your jaw muscles, and ask you to open and close your jaw, as well as other diagnostic techniques.

There are several dental treatment approaches to treating bruxism and related dental problems:

  • Orthodontic Treatment – If malocclusion or misalignment of the jaw is causing the bruxism, your dentist may refer you to see a 1st Family Dental orthodontist to see if orthodontic treatment such as dental braces may help to align the teeth and jaw and help relieve the bruxism.
  • Mouth Guards – Also known as a ‘night guard’, these appliances are either hard or soft, and are made in a dental lab using impressions of your teeth so they are custom fitted for you.  Patients wear these night guards while they sleep to help cushion the teeth and relieve pressure on the jaw.
  • Other Dental Correction – If grinding and clenching has damaged the teeth, your dentist may recommend restorative options such as crowns, or reshaping of the teeth.  These restorative options are usually accompanied by a night guard to help protect the teeth and restorations.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

Severe bruxism may also lead to TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders, which can present with clicking and/or pain when opening and closing the jaw, and even the inability to partially or fully open or close the jaw.

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