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Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Bruxism is the habit of clenching, gnashing or grinding your teeth. Your teeth are not meant to be clenched and in contact all the time. They should only briefly touch each other when you swallow or chew. If they are in contact too often or too forcefully, it can wear down the tooth enamel. This is the outer layer that covers each tooth. Without this to protect the inner parts of your teeth, you will have dental problems. Regularly clenching or grinding your teeth also leads to pain in the jaw or in the muscles of the face. Bruxism happens while awake and while sleeping.

Who has bruxism?

It is thought that about half of the community grinds their teeth from time to time but it may be serious in about 1 in 20 cases.

Approximately 30% of children grind or clench their teeth. Most children grow out of this and suffer no lasting effects to their adult teeth.

How do I know if I have it?

You may not know that you grind your teeth while you are asleep. A bed partner may be the first person to notice grinding sounds and noises. Other clues may be:

  • morning symptoms of a dull headache or ear pain

  • jaw muscles that hurt or are tight

  • trouble opening the mouth wide

  • long lasting pain in the face

  • damage to the teeth and broken dental fillings

  • fractured, chipped or loose teeth

  • aching teeth

  • stiffness in the face and temples

  • sensitivity to hot and cold food/drinks

  • pain when biting down as the fibre that attaches the teeth to the bone gets inflamed.

Your dentist can help to work out if you have bruxism. You will be asked a series of questions and your overall dental health will be checked. This may include:

  • looking for wear and damage to your teeth

  • checking the muscles in and around your jaw

  • function of the jaw joints.

What causes it?

There are many reasons for bruxism such as:

  • emotional stress (anger and anxiety)

  • drug use (stimulants)

  • having to concentrate hard

  • illness

  • dehydration

  • poor diet

  • sleep problems

  • teething (in babies)

  • misaligned teeth.

How is bruxism treated?

There are many treatments available for bruxism including:

  • a night splint

  • relaxation and awareness techniques

  • counselling may help to relieve stress

  • improving the quality of your sleep can be of benefit

  • treating sleep apnoea in some people.

There are no medications that will stop bruxism. A splint can be made to help protect the teeth, muscles and jaw joint from the pressure of clenching and grinding. It will not stop bruxism but it will reduce the chewing force to your teeth, thus protecting them for the future.

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