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The act of grinding or clenching the upper and lower sets of teeth against each other is called bruxism. It may take place at any time of the day. Often, it occurs when someone is either sleeping or taking a nap. If this happens occasionally, then there is no cause for concern. However, habitual bruxism may lead to oral health problems.
Probable Causes Of Habitual Bruxism
There are several things that may lead to a person habitually clenching or grinding their teeth. It may be the result of too much stress, a traumatic incident like a car crash, an existing medical condition, or due to a simple allergic reaction. It can sometimes start out as a reflex chewing activity resulting from certain stimuli. Anxiety, or the other factors mentioned, can cause it to happen often enough that it becomes a habit.
Although this condition can happen to anyone, certain people are particularly susceptible. For instance, misaligned, uneven, or missing teeth can trigger the chewing reflex. People who are subject to higher amounts of stress, such as those with poor sleeping habits and poor posture may exhibit bruxism during their sleep.
Signs And Symptoms
Most of the time people are not aware they have this habit, especially while they are asleep. Many only become aware due to complaints made by those sleeping nearby.
One such indicator is a sore jaw upon waking up in the morning or after an afternoon nap. This may be accompanied by a dull, constant headache. Some painful symptoms can even be felt in the ear area because the muscles used in clenching or grinding teeth are also found in this area of the face.
Aside from the pain, teeth may also exhibit abnormal wear patterns in the biting surface of teeth found towards the back of the mouth. These are the ones used to grind food when eating.
When bruxism occurs over a long enough period of time, portions of teeth may break away or become fractured. Some may also be loosened, leading to the eventual loss of one or more teeth. These types of damage will need to be treated by a dentist as soon as possible to prevent further or more severe dental complications.
Aside from this, other parts of the mouth and face may also be affected. For instance, habitual bruxism may lead to a pain disorder in the joint below the temples and in front of the ears. This is the joint used when chewing food or moving the jaw. Hearing loss is another possibility. Because it affects the teeth, the jaw, and muscles associated with chewing, it can even result in a change in appearance.
Early Intervention And Treatment
Treating this problem involves addressing the cause or stimulus that triggered the habit. If it is related to stress, treatment that incorporates stress reduction will be very helpful. Some stress reduction options include taking exercise or participating in stress counseling. Using prescribed muscle relaxants may also help.
If the problem is sleep related, doing things to normalize sleep is essential. This includes abstaining from foods that contain caffeine or chocolate, colas, or other substances that may adversely affect sleep. Alcohol also tends to increase bruxism, so should be avoided. It is likely that a mouthguard may be prescribed to prevent bruxism during sleep.
There are also other practical measures that may also help in breaking the habit. These include only using teeth for the purpose of eating, and refraining from chewing gum, or doing some other activity related to habitual chewing or jaw clenching. A warm washcloth placed over the jaw area in front of the ears can also be helpful in relaxing the muscles used in chewing or clenching.
It is important to consult with a dentist if bruxism is suspected. A dentist will help in identifying the cause and can come up with the right treatment program to help address it. In some cases, they may refer the patient to another physician who is better suited to deal with whatever is causing the habit.
Bruxism, if it does not become habitual, is not a cause for concern. If it becomes a habit, however, it can lead to various oral health problems. Identifying it early and treating the underlying cause will help prevent it from causing irreversible damage.
For more information about teeth grinding or mouthguards, or any other dental issues, please contact your Portales, NM dentist, Dr. Peter Thompson today.
Dr. Thompson’s Associations
- Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies Graduate
- Fellow of the Misch International Implant Institute
- Fellow of Academy of General Dentistry
- Fellow of the Dental Organization of Conscious Sedation
- Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantologist
- See all of Dr. Thompson's associations
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