What is it?
Bruxism, the dental term for the grinding or clenching of teeth, occurs in both children and adults. It puts excess pressure on the teeth and can have detrimental effects on the teeth, jaw and temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Some people have signs of bruxism without even knowing they grind, because it happens subconsciously during sleep.
Bruxism can be mild enough to not require treatment, but severe bruxism can cause jaw disorders, headaches and damaged teeth. It is a condition that appears frequently in children, but usually is outgrown by adolescence. Anger, frustration and increased anxiety are all risk factors that can cause people to grind. Also, consuming alcohol, smoking or taking illegal drugs can increase the likelihood of a person grinding.
What are some signs of bruxism?
Sometimes, the diagnosis of bruxism is easy and your sleeping partner or parent can hear the grinding throughout the night. However, if nobody sees or hears grinding, there are other signs the dental hygienist can look for clinically. These include:
- attrition, which is worn down and flattened teeth. This can cause the inner layers of the teeth, such as dentin, to be exposed
- fractured or chipped teeth
- tired jaw muscles
- facial pain indentions in the tongue, which indicates a clenching problem
- chronic facial pain
- earaches or headaches, which can also be a sign of bruxism
Why do people grind/clench?
There is not a concrete answer because people grind for different reasons, but some common reasons are:
- response to pain or teething in kids
- side effect from certain medications, including antidepressants
What will the dentist do if I ask for a check-up?
The dentist will check for tenderness in the jaw muscles as well as look for any obvious dental problems such as chipped or fractured teeth. If the dentist suspects a psychological problem that is causing grinding or a sleep-related disorder, you may be referred to a therapist or sleep specialist.
In some cases, the patient outgrows bruxism, but other times dental interventions are necessary. Mouth guards are an inexpensive solution to stop grinding and are available over-the-counter or can be custom-made in the office to fit your teeth. Generally, the mouth guard will only cover the top teeth and will prevent the harsh crunching and grinding of the teeth.
Other options are to monitor your lifestyle and do things such as reduce stress, avoid stimulating substances at night and schedule regular dental exams. If bruxism is a problem you are having, contact your dentist and ask what the best option is for you.