Bruxism. It sounds like a pretty fierce word, doesn't it? In a way, it is. Bruxism is the term given to the act of grinding your teeth, and grinding can cause some fierce issues for you. Nocturnal Bruxism is exactly what it sounds like, as well - it is the act of grinding your teeth at night, specifically in your sleep. Bruxism can cause interrupted sleep patterns, and issues in the mouth and head.
So what causes bruxism? Can it be avoided? What are the side effects? In this article, we will answer all of these questions and help you become well informed on this tension-causing activity, so let’s get down to bruxism business!
Possible Causes of Bruxism
You may not even be aware that you have been grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, but your bruxism may stem from certain outside factors or lifestyle habits. No matter how much you brush your teeth, if you grind your teeth at night, you may be sacrificing your oral health and affecting other parts of your body.
Read on to help determine if any of these may be causing your bruxism:
The excessive use of alcohol can increase your chances of having nocturnal bruxism. Even consuming a few glasses of wine before bed can break up your circadian rhythms and cause sleeping issues. People with sleeping interruptions may notice hyperactive muscle triggers which may cause the teeth to grind.
People often smoke to feel more relaxed, however tobacco is a known stimulant which can affect dopamine production. Because of this effect, smokers can experience a much higher occurrence of bruxism during sleep hours than non-smokers.
Read more about tobacco use and bruxism here.
Recreational Drug Use
The use of various drugs can affect the occurrence of bruxism in users. While more controlled evidence studies are needed to confirm, there is anecdotal testimony to the fact that the stimulants found in many recreational drugs like cocaine, heroine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine can increase instances of bruxism. Furthermore, these drugs can cause issues with the motor system, which may cause the clenching and grinding of the jaw.
Read more on the link between drug use and bruxism here.
While not as hazardous as drug stimulants, drinking caffeinated drinks like coffee, energy drinks, and tea in large quantities can increase the risk of bruxing. The stimulating effects of caffeine can last up to six hours after consumption. This can mean nighttime muscle stimulation, leading to nocturnal bruxism.
Last but definitely not least is stress. Stress is a response to outside stimuli or circumstances that can evoke emotions like anger, frustration, tension, and anxiety. If not properly dealt with, finding at least an emotional resolve, this stress can manifest itself in bodily tension, even if only subconscious. Bruxism is a common consequence of this type of stress.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Teeth Grinding
Not all Bruxism sufferers experience symptoms, though some still do.
Here are a few of the possible symptoms resulting from grinding your teeth:
- Temporomandibular (jaw) joint pain
- Pain in the face
- Sensitivity in teeth, due to being worn down by grinding
- Sleep disruption
Some side effects that may occur from grinding teeth are:
- Cracked, damaged, or blunted teeth
- Damaged fillings or crowns
- Severe cases may result in chewing issues, trouble speaking or problems with swallowing
Because bruxism is often done during sleep or subconsciously during the day, it may be impossible to tell it’s happening until symptoms occur.
Side effects caused by the long-term occurrence of bruxism may include:
- Chronic pain in the ears or head
- Overgrowth of the facial muscles
- Permanent tooth damage
- Temporomandibular Disorders
While not all of these side effects are created equal, even the more minimal side effects can lead to larger issues if not managed well. Not to worry, you can help relieve pain and ease your mind (and jaw)!
Ways to Prevent or Relieve Bruxism
Whether you are clenching your jaw or full-on grinding your teeth, there are things you can do to stop it from happening. While some techniques will be more efficient than others, you should be able to find something to help quit the clenching, depending on what underlying cause may exist.
Use an Occlusal Guard
Occlusal guards, also referred to as simply “mouthguards”, can be extremely helpful against the harmful effects of bruxism on your teeth. While occlusal guards do not stop your jaw from clenching and moving, they create a cushioned barrier between your teeth, which stops grinding from occurring.
Mouthguards are available over the counter, and can be molded around your teeth, or provided by a dentist, and custom-made to fit your mouth exactly. While custom mouthguards are much more expensive, they may give a better fit and be more effective than standard over-the-counter varieties.
Furthermore, custom guards can be as slim or dense as needed for your particular bite and will fit your jaw exactly. Of the two options, these should be the more comfortable route.
Over-the-counter guards are usually made of plastic, and are not always as comfortable as the custom varieties. If you go this route, look for a guard that is made of softer plastic that can be warmed in boiling water and molded to your teeth. You may not get the same comfortable fit as a custom occlusal guard, but this will be much more cost effective.
Dental Corrective Procedures
One dental procedure that may help with the reshaping or balancing of your bite is called reductive coronoplasty. This can be very effective for those whose uneven bite, crooked or crowded teeth are the cause of grinding.
As it turns out, Botox injections won’t just erase your wrinkles. They may also be able to reduce the pain caused by bruxism, as well as the headaches and facial pain caused by the condition. While you should speak to a medical professional before beginning any such treatment, small injections of Botox administered into your large jaw muscle may help relax the muscle and help alleviate bruxism related pain.
Keep in mind that Botox injections are not permanent. You may need to return for follow-up injections every few months.
Perhaps you take wonderful care of your health. Maybe you brush twice a day, use fluoride toothpaste, and stay away from drugs and caffeine, but you are still noticing pain and other issues happening with your teeth. This may be due to stress causing you to grind your teeth. If this is the case, you may want to try to implement some stress reduction techniques to manage your inner tension and its effects on your jaw.
Here are some helpful stress reduction techniques you can try:
Perform a body scan: Sometimes incorporated into yoga routines, a body scan can help activate an awareness of tension points in your mind and body. To try this out, sit or lay down in a comfortable position. As you take slow, deep breaths, bring a mindfulness to any place on your body that is feeling tension or discomfort. Allow your breathing to release the tension.
Mindfulness meditation: This is similar to a body scan, but rather than allowing your breathing to slow you down to an awareness of what is going on inside your body, mindfulness meditation can help you release any concerns that may drift into your mind, leaving you more peaceful and calm.
Yoga: Beyond just the physical relaxation and tension release that can come from practicing yoga, this ancient practice can help you process stress and anxiety with a calming and peaceful release.
- Breath Prayers: These simple, repetitive prayers can help focus your mind and heart on peace and release tension. To perform these prayers, do the following - Breathe in, say the beginning of a phrase. Breathe out, finish the phrase. For example: (Breathe in) “I can handle this day.” (Breathe out) “I have everything I need.” Choose a phrase that empowers and calms you.
Tongue and Jaw Muscle Exercises
A more strictly physical approach, doing tongue and jaw muscle exercises can help you relax the muscles that become overactive at night or during moments of tension. Here is a list of jaw exercises for TMJ and bruxism you can try. Additionally, you can gently massage your jaw to release tension.
When to See a Dentist
If you have tried one or more of these tips and have not experienced any relief in the frequency of, or pain caused by, bruxism, it may be time to speak with a dental professional.
Here are some signs that it might be time to speak with your dentist:
- Your teeth have become severely damaged or extremely sensitive
- You feel pain in your face, ear, or jaw that will not subside
- You have been told that you are grinding your teeth in your sleep by a sleeping partner
Jaw clenching, teeth grinding, bruxism - whichever you prefer to call it, this issue can be a pain in the neck (and jaw). Bruxism can also be harsh on your teeth, so while you are working on finding the right treatment for your teeth grinding, take care of them by brushing often, using a safe and effective toothpaste, and avoiding foods that can weaken your enamel.
Remember, there are ways to prevent and relieve this issue. If necessary, see your dentist for a treatment plan. In the meantime, use these tips to help you manage bruxism.