Some people know that they grind their teeth—they might wake up in the morning with a clenched jaw or notice that they’re grinding their teeth while sitting at the computer at work. More often, patients have no idea that they grind their teeth because it occurs while they’re asleep at night. Unfortunately, teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) can cause serious dental issues, so it’s important to get a diagnosis before permanent damage occurs.
Know the Signs of Teeth Grinding
If bruxism most often happens when you’re asleep, you may wonder how it can be diagnosed. The answer is that rather than expecting patients to know that they grind their teeth, we assess them for symptoms of bruxism. When you experience any combination of these symptoms, and there is no other explanation for them, it’s very likely that you are grinding your teeth while you sleep.
- Headaches, especially when they are at their worst when you wake up and the pain seems to come from your jaw or temples.
- Dental problems like unexplained tooth sensitivity, chips, and cracks. Patients who suffer from bruxism also tend to have teeth that are small and flat from wear.
- Facial pain and muscle tightness, which can be not only in the jaw, but also the shoulders and neck.
- Earaches and feelings of fullness caused by inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is located near the ear canal.
Teeth grinding and TMJ disorder are closely related and some of the same treatments are used for both. While bruxism usually leads to TMJ disorder if it continues untreated, not all TMJ disorders are caused by bruxism.
Causes of Teeth Grinding
The most common cause of teeth grinding is stress. People who suffer from anxiety or who are going through particularly stressful times in their lives are more likely to experience bruxism at night. Bruxism can also be caused by medical issues, including:
- Gastric reflux
- Orthodontic problems, including misaligned teeth and malocclusion
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep Apnea
- Certain medications
Treatments for Bruxism
As mentioned above, treatment for TMJ disorder and bruxism often overlap. One option that is used for both is a custom-fitted oral appliance that physically prevents you from grinding your teeth and aligns your jaw in a more ergonomic position. These acrylic appliances are made to fit comfortably and relieve the pressure placed on your teeth to protect them from damage.
Aside from oral appliance therapy, some of the most effective treatments for bruxism are lifestyle changes and home care. Try the following:
- Reduce stress, which can lead to teeth grinding at night. Progressive muscle relaxation before bedtime can help, as can incorporating meditation into your daily routine.
- Cut down on caffeine, which may worsen the muscle tension that causes bruxism.
- Use warm compresses on your temples or take a bath before you go to bed to relax your muscles.
- Massage your temples and jaw, especially before bedtime.
- Avoid gum, candy, and any other foods that make your jaw sore. Excessive chewing worsens the muscle tension that causes teeth grinding and jaw clenching.