Even if you’ve never heard of this term, chances are, you are familiar with what it is. Bruxism is the technical term for grinding or clenching your teeth. It is an extremely common problem and affects between 30 and 40 million children and adults.
There are two types: awake bruxism (which happens during the day) and the most prevalent- nocturnal or sleep bruxism (which happens at night.) Its most common cause is stress or anxiety, though it can also be caused by a misalignment of the teeth, as a side-effect of some nerve disorders and as a side effect of certain medications.
Because it usually happens at night, you may not even realize you are grinding your teeth until symptoms start to develop. You might be a bruxer if you wake up to or experience any of these symptoms:
- Sore jaw
- Increasingly sensitive teeth
- Facial pain
- Teeth that are worn flat or chipped
- Broken dental fillings
- Swollen jaw joint
What Bruxing does to your teeth
With age and time, everyone teeth become naturally worn down and appear to be more “flat”. With bruxism, however, the grinding motion wears your natural teeth down much faster than normal attrition. If left untreated, what used to be “normally” shaped become short, flattened, chipped stubs of where teeth used to be. Constant grinding, whether during the day or at night, puts heavy pressure on the opposing teeth. This motion of grinding back and forth can cause the teeth to be sore the next morning and noticeable fracture lines and chips may occur. The enamel is slowly, but steadily worn away until the yellowy “dentin” layer of the tooth is visible and can cause tooth sensitivity. Your dentist can add filling to these teeth to try to lengthen them back out and stop the sensitivity, but without getting to the root of the issue, the fillings will be ground down and knocked out, just like your natural tooth structure.
What to do?
If you suspect you are a tooth grinder, see your dentist. He/she will examine your teeth to check for dental problems related to bruxism- including your “bite” and tooth or gum damage. He will discuss treatment options with you depending on the most likely cause of the bruxism. (Some options include a custom fitted mouth guard or a splint.)
Note that Bruxism is extremely common in children, especially under the age of five. While most cases of childhood bruxism resolve on their own around age ten, the same symptoms that adults face are also applicable to children. If you hear your child grinding his/her teeth or they are complaining of a sore jaw or other symptoms mentioned above, see your dentist. He will examine to check for damage and causes and can counsel you on appropriate treatment options, which might include a night guard or relaxing exercises before bedtime.
If you think you might have bruxism, make sure to contact your dentist.