By Dina Jackson-Giesler, DDS, MAGD
You probably know how bothersome it is to hear someone snore, but have you ever experienced someone grind their teeth? It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Believe it or not, it is just as common as snoring. Sleep studies confirm that the majority of people grind or clench during specific stages of sleep. It is also common during the day to clench your teeth together and not even realize you’re doing it – waiting in gridlock traffic at the mall is the perfect example.
Many people that suffer from bruxism (teeth grinding) are unaware of the problem or know that there are even ways to treat it. To better understand teeth grinding, let me answer some common questions; what are the causes of bruxism, what should I look for to determine if I have bruxism, are there any complications that may appear if untreated and what types of treatments are out there.
CAUSES. As of 2009 there is no known cause of teeth grinding; however there is a link to the CNS (central nervous system). Anxiety or stress seems to be the most frequent causes among adults. As for children, about 15-33% grind, which may result as early as teething, carrying into the developmental stages of the jaws and teeth. Personality traits for all ages can also play a part of the cause; hyperactivity, aggression, etc. Additional general sources include, malocclusion (teeth don’t fit together properly), hormonal changes and prescription anti-depressants.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS. Most cases are mild enough to not cause any discomfort, however symptoms tend to vary based on the length of time of grinding and frequency. Symptoms include pain, morning migraines, fractured or sensitive teeth, unusual wear of teeth and gums, the breakdown of existing restorations and earaches. Make note of how often your symptoms occur and the severity of pain to take to your dentist.
COMPLICATIONS. If untreated, teeth can fracture or you may experience chronic headaches and facial pain from tension building in the jaw. This tension can also lead to a more severe outcome, TMJ. TMJ is a condition that causes pain in and around the jaw area, ultimately affecting the way you use your mouth (chewing, swallowing, speaking, etc.) Two hundred and fifty pounds can be exerted on the posterior molars, so the pain is real! Grinding increases stress on the ligaments of the teeth and can lead to endodontic therapy and gum abcesses. As you get older, teeth, just like our bones, become more brittle, easier to break. Fractured teeth are becoming a major cause of tooth loss in adults.
TREATMENTS. There are treatments available within dentistry to ease or possibly eliminate teeth grinding. Splints and mouth guards are the most common treatment and can be made by your dentist. Think of these custom appliances as an Orthotic for your mouth and more importantly, stay away from the store bought ones as they can make matters worse. As an alternative to a dental approach, particular medications also have been a positive effect on teeth grinding – muscle relaxers have been found to relax the muscle and break the pain cycle. A soft diet, anti-inflammatory medications, consistent hydration and the elimination of caffeine are recommended as well. Recently, Botox has been used to inject into the facial muscles, relieving pain and headaches.
Stress management is important and should be combined with any of the suggestions above or from your doctor. Don’t stress this season, visit with your dentist and have a less stressful holiday.