Do you find yourself grinding or clenching your teeth during the day or waking up in the morning with jaw pain? These can be signs that you may have bruxism, which is defined as a movement disorder that involves parafunctional habits of grinding or clenching of teeth. 

There are two different categories of bruxism: diurnal, or awake bruxism, and nocturnal, or sleep bruxism. Both types have the same negative effects on the patient’s jaw and teeth which can lead to painful jaw muscles, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), headaches, hypersensitivity of the teeth and generalized wear and tear. Unfortunately, bruxism is a common disorder in many patients, but most are unaware they have it until they become symptomatic. 

The condition can be caused by a single or combination of factors, however, a chief cause has not been identified. While it may be seen in young children losing their primary and growing adult teeth, it is not usually a damaging habit that requires treatment because primary teeth and jaws grow so quickly. Most children will outgrow it. 

Factors for adults include a misaligned bite or missing teeth, however, one of the main causes, either awake or asleep, involves stress. When faced with stressful situations, many of us clench or grind our teeth which can carry over to repeated episodes of sleep bruxism. Irregular sleep patterns can also contribute to episodes of teeth grinding at night, as can excess smoking, caffeine and alcohol. 

Secondary bruxism can happen as a result of medical conditions such as anxiety, depression and Parkinson’s or medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics and amphetamines.

Symptoms of teeth grinding include jaw soreness, worn down teeth, dull headaches, sensitive teeth (most commonly to pressure) and teeth fractures. Long-term damage can include loose teeth, damage to existing dental restorations such as fillings or crowns, flattened or worn-down teeth and TMJ which can cause pain and tension in the jaw. 

Dentists or medical doctors can diagnosis bruxism by performing a clinical examination. There is no treatment that can entirely cure the condition, but there are methods to attempt to decrease bruxism while awake and prevent further damage including professional night guards. Your dentist can take an impression and fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth while asleep. If bruxism habits are severe, a muscle relaxant may be recommended.

If stress is the main cause of clenching or grinding habits, it’s best to try to eliminate the stress in your life. Some helpful methods include counseling, exercise and meditation. If you feel like you suffer from symptoms of bruxism, contact your dentist or physician for a proper examination. 

Sarah Khoshniyati (“Dr. Sarah”) is a dentist with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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