What is Bruxism?
Bruxism (BRUK-siz-um) is an oral habit of involuntary gnashing, grinding, or clenching of your teeth throughout the day and/or night. You may not even know you are doing it. But unlike chewing movements of your jaw, bruxism can greatly impact your day-to-day quality of living. The causes of bruxism can be a combination of stress, anxiety, an abnormal bite, missing, or even crooked teeth.
Check your bite, right now — are your teeth touching? The proper resting position of your jaw is not closed or “teeth touching” but instead slightly open, ideally ⅛ inch. Try keeping the tip of your tongue right behind your two front teeth. This separates the teeth and relaxes the jaw.
Getting in the habit of noticing clenching and correcting it throughout the day can help you get into the habit of relaxing your jaw and correcting preventing more damage.
One of the common causes of the bruxing habit is STRESS. April is stress awareness month and since the past year has been extra stressful for everyone, we thought this would be a good time to discuss the damaging effects it can have on your mouth and how you can fix it.
Chronic stress is very destructive to our bodies. The body reacts to stressful situations/ events by triggering the release of adrenaline, which leads to faster breathing and heartbeat, a higher muscle tension, and an increased sugar level and blood pressure. Muscle tension in our jaw leads to clenching and grinding. The worst damage to our teeth and jaw can happen in deep sleep (REM sleep), when bruxing is completely involuntary.
Symptoms of Bruxism
How do you know if you or your child is bruxing? Symtpoms of unconscious clenching and grinding of your can teeth lead to:
- Dull headaches originating in your temples
- Jaw joint pain (TMJ)
- Tooth sensitivity
- Loose teeth
- Neck aches
- Your jaw can lock when trying to open or close completely
- Clicking sounds when you open your mouth
- Indentations on the sides of your tongue
Evaluating the Problem
Dr. Bertolini will examine your entire mouth and ask several questions. His evaluation helps to confirm that you do brux your teeth. It may also help to identify the possible cause (s) of your habit. After an evaluation he will prepare a recommended treatment plan of action to alleviate the pain or damage you may be experiencing.
Damage Caused by Bruxism
The gradual damage of your teeth, jaw, and muscle structure including:
- Chipped enamel
- Flattened, grooved, worn-down teeth
- Loosened teeth
- Cracked teeth
- Periodontal (gum) damage
- Chronic headaches
- Hearing problems
If nothing is done to stop the damage, bruxism may cause or worsen TMD/TMJ (jaw muscle and joint problems), cause the loss of your teeth, and can even change the appearance of your face.
Depending on the cause of your bruxism, Dr. Bertolini may suggest one or more of these treatments:
Dr. Bertolini can provide a custom-made nightguard designed to fit over your top or bottom teeth. This will protect them from damage due to clenching and grinding. A nightguard can also provide relief from tooth sensitivity and chronic headaches, along with reducing the stressors in your life.
The way your top teeth fit against your bottom teeth may be uneven. Correcting this can reduce the chances of grinding and clenching during sleep.
Reducing stress may help you relax your jaw muscles and make grinding and clenching less likely. Dr. Bertolini may suggest some tips to help you do this.
In some cases, medication may be needed to help relieve sore muscles or reduce stress.
Repairing Damages Teeth
Composite overlays or crowns are two possible ways to repair teeth damaged by bruxism. Dr. Bertolini will discuss your personalized treatment plan during your consultation.
Tips to Relieve Stress and Relieve Bruxism
- Get enough rest. During deep sleep, your brain digests the emotional activity from the previous day so you wake up prepared for another day’s activities.
- Avoid caffeine. Consuming stimulants contributes to clenching and can prevent you from a night of restful sleep.
- Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption.
- Avoid chewing gum. Chewing gum makes your jaw muscles get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth during sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Fresh air and physical activity eases anxiety and releases mood-enhancing endorphins.
- Watch what you eat. Proper nutrition, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, ensures your body has what it needs to cope with stressful situations. Make it a point to eat foods high in magnesium, which helps muscle metabolism and relaxation.
- Use self-awareness. If you notice yourself becoming stressed, find a way to stay positive. Also try talking with someone to help you avoid internalizing the stress and manifesting it in other, negative ways.
- Have some fun! – Studies show that laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, and releases anxiety-reducing endorphins.