Bruxism – How Your Dentist Can Help With Teeth Grinding and Jaw Pain


Symptoms and Treatment for Teeth Grinding

Bruxism is the term used for the conscious or unconscious clenching or grinding of the teeth. Many people may not be aware that they have bruxism, especially if they only grind their teeth at night, but bruxism is thought to affect around 30 to 40 million people in the United States. Stress is one of the most common trigger for bruxism. Unless there are structural issue with the teeth that cause them to rub together, bruxism is usually a mild condition that does not require treatment.

Symptoms of Bruxism

If bruxism is severe or frequent it can sometimes cause damage to the teeth or lead to jaw pain or headaches. Continued grinding can break dental fillings or wear down the outer layers of enamel to expose dentin and cause tooth sensitivity. Bruxism can also be one of the contributing factors in temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. The temporo-mandibular joint is located where the jaw bone meets the skull at the top of the neck (just below the ears). This joint and the surrounding muscles and ligaments control basic movements such as chewing and speaking. TMJ disorder refers to issues with the joint and surrounding tissues. Other causes of TMJ include structural issues or injury. In summary, symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Headache, jaw pain, and muscular pain
  • Tired jaw muscles
  • Grinding noises during sleep
  • Unusual wear on the teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity

Why Do Some People Grind Their Teeth?

The cause of bruxism is not always clear, but it is generally thought to be a combination of physical and/or psychological factors. Some of the causes of teeth grinding include:

  • Stress and muscle tension
  • Anger or anxiety
  • Earache that causes a pain response in the jaw
  • Complications from medical symptoms of Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease
  • Misalignment of the jaw or teeth

Treatment for Bruxism

Bruxism is often temporary or not severe enough to require treatment. When symptoms are more noticeable, there are preventative and corrective treatments available. Preventative Treatments for Bruxism include stress management, and/or use of mouth guards or protective splints. If bruxism is triggered by stress, relaxation methods can be effective for preventing symptoms. Mouth guards and splints are generally moulded to the top teeth and worn during sleep to prevent further damage to the teeth.

Corrective treatments for bruxism include orthodontic treatment to fix misaligned teeth and behavioural therapy to adjust the habits related to clenching and grinding the teeth. In severe cases, Botox injections can be used to relax the muscles around the jaw, but generally medications are not used as part of therapy.

How to Prevent Bruxism

If you are concerned about bruxism there are a few things you can do to prevent and monitor symptoms. Some home care tips include:

  • Maintaining a low stress lifestyle, including exercising, getting enough sleep, setting aside down time, and practicing meditation
  • Doing regular awareness checks to see if your jaw muscles are tight or clenched
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and taking deep breaths with your lips closed and your teeth apart
  • Stretching and massaging the muscles in the neck, face, and jaw
  • Asking your sleep partner to watch out for teeth grinding sounds while you’re sleeping

One of the most important habits to protect your teeth is to visit your family dentist for regular check ups. Ask your dentist to check for early signs of wear on the teeth. Your dentist can also examine the joints and muscles of the jaw. Early detection and treatment is the best way to avoid more complicated issues.

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