Do you find yourself clenching your teeth involuntarily? Do you feel you clench your teeth when you are stressed or angry? Has someone mentioned that you grind your teeth while you are asleep?

Well, this involuntary clenching or grinding of teeth is called bruxism. Let’s find out more about it. 

What is Bruxism?

The clenching, grinding, gnashing, or grating of teeth is known medically as bruxism. You may clench or grind your teeth unknowingly and it may happen both during day and night (awake and sleep bruxism). 

Occasional teeth grinding usually does no harm. However, regular and persistent teeth grinding may cause pain and discomfort to the jaws, damage to the teeth, and other oral health complications. 

Bruxism in Children 

Bruxism in children is often seen when their permanent teeth start erupting and the habit usually stops after the adult teeth are fully formed. 

Causes of Bruxism

While the exact cause of bruxism is unknown, some of the probable causes according to experts are:

  • Stress And Anxiety: The most common cause of bruxism is thought to be related to increased psychological stress and anxiety that affects you subconsciously while asleep.

  • Malaligned Teeth: Some experts feel that bruxism is a mere habit and is a result of teeth not being aligned properly.

  • Sleep Disorder: There is also a strong association between bruxism and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder in which your breathing is interrupted during your sleep.

  • Medications: In rare cases, bruxism may be a side effect of certain antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs which are used to treat depression and anxiety.

  • Lifestyle: Regular or excessive intake of alcohol, smoking, and using recreational drugs can increase your risk of bruxism.

  • Disease: Bruxism may also be a symptom of certain rare diseases affecting the nerves and muscles in the face. 

Symptoms of Bruxism

Bruxism can cause various symptoms, such as:

  • Abnormal tooth wearing, leading to tooth sensitivity. 

  • Damaged teeth or broken dental fillings.

  • Inflamed (swollen) gums.

  • Pain and stiffness in the jaw, making it difficult to open the mouth wide.

  • Rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles.

  • Swelling (occasionally) on the side of your lower jaw. 

  • Dull headache when you wake up in the morning.

  • Unexplained pain in the face (facial myalgia).

  • Earache (though it is actually not a problem with your ear).

  • Sleep disruption (both for you and your partner).

Diagnosis of Bruxism

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your dentist to determine if you are a bruxer and how best to treat it. 

Doctors refer to teeth grinding that is caused without any underlying condition as "primary bruxism" and that associated with your lifestyle, medication, or medical condition as "secondary bruxism".

Treatment of Bruxism

1. Self-Care: Some of the symptoms of bruxism, such as facial pain, dull headache, and earache will often disappear when you stop grinding your teeth. However, others, such as tooth damage, can be permanent.

 Here are some self-care remedies to relieve pain:

  • Yoga, deep breathing, reading, listening to music, etc. are a few recommended techniques for stress management.

  • Apply ice or wet heat to sore jaw muscles.

  • Avoid eating hard foods such as nuts, candies, etc.

  • Drink plenty of water every day.

  • Stretching exercises like opening and closing your mouth, help to restore the action of the jaw muscles back to normal.

  • Massage your neck, shoulder, and facial muscles to relieve the stress stored in the body.

2. Medical Treatment

Your physician may prescribe the following for symptomatic relief:

  • Muscle relaxants.

  • Painkillers like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

3. Dental Interventions

Your dentist may suggest the following:

  • Mouth Guards And Splints: These will protect your teeth and prevent clenching and grinding during sleep, thus eliminating the destructive behaviour and preventing further damage to your teeth.

  • Reconstructive Dental Treatment: Dental problems like misaligned, cracked, crooked or missing teeth are treated by providing overlays, crowns, etc. These treatments will reshape the chewing surface of your teeth and stop you from grinding.

When to See a Doctor?

You would need to visit a dentist if your teeth are worn, damaged, or sensitive; if you have pain in your jaw, face, or ear; or if others are complaining that you make a grinding sound in your sleep. 

Do not assume that clenching your teeth is normal. It can be caused by stress and can damage your teeth and facial muscles. Consult your doctor immediately when you notice it.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.