Most of us have occasionally clenched our jaws in a tense situation – studies suggest that this is an emotional response to lifestyle factors such as stress and anxiety. But what do you do if you are excessively grinding your teeth, not just in your waking hours, but also at night?
Bruxism is the medical term for jaw clenching and teeth grinding. It can have painful and permanently damaging effects on your overall health and teeth. Dentistry UK suggests that 80% of the UK’s population is affected by the condition; however, awareness of bruxism is still relatively limited, meaning many doctors and patients misinterpret the symptoms.
Bruxism Awareness Week runs from 22-28 October this year, bringing the conversation about a topic which undoubtedly deserves more attention to the foreground.
Sufferers may often not recognise that they are showing signs of bruxism. This brief list highlights some of the most common symptoms:
- Ear ache
- Facial myalgia – muscle pain
- Hypersensitive teeth
- Tooth wear
- Pain and tenderness of the joints connecting the jaw to the skull
- Stiff neck and shoulders
- Inflammation of the tissue connecting the tooth to the bone
- Loose teeth
Because the range of symptoms is so broad, it’s easy to see why bruxism can sometimes be overlooked as a possible diagnosis by practitioners.
Patients may predominantly be grinding their teeth while asleep, causing symptoms such as a sore jaw and headache to surface as soon as they wake up. Perhaps one of the most severe indications is the damage caused by the tooth-to-tooth contact. Attrition occurs when the biting surface of the tooth is continuously worn down, something which can be extremely painful and aesthetically discomforting for the sufferer.
Conscious and unconscious processes can control chewing. Typically, when not speaking, chewing or swallowing, the jaw should be relaxed and the teeth slightly parted. While asleep, we experience something called physiological motor paralysis – meaning most of our muscles are inactive during REM sleep, limiting our motor responses. It is yet mostly unknown what exactly causes bruxism sufferers to override their natural sleep state and grind their teeth, but there is strong evidence pointing towards nervous and psychological factors.
The NHS lists the following possible causes:
- Stress and anxiety
- Side effects of medication
- Sleep disorders
Furthermore, there are also lifestyle factors which may be forcing you to grind your teeth or exacerbate the condition:
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Recreational drugs
These psychoactive substances could be contributing to increased arousal, reducing your ability to manage stress and anxiety effectively.
If any of the symptoms resonate with you, you should not delay a visit to your doctor. If you sense any damage to the tooth, booking a dental appointment is essential.
There are various treatments and lifestyle changes you could implement to treat the symptoms and manage the triggers:
- Your dentist will be able to fit a mouth guard which you will be required to wear at night. The device may reduce the grinding and prevent further tooth wear. It will not, however, stop the issue altogether.
- Identifying and eliminating stressors as well as formulating a healthy bedtime routine can help you to relax the muscles in the jaw and release any built-up tension which may be manifesting overnight.
- Reducing or removing caffeine and other stimulants from your diet will help to improve your chances of relaxing and unwinding in the evening.
- Using NLP, meditation or other relaxation techniques and exercises may help you to consciously relax the muscles around your mouth, jaw, face and neck.
- If you suffer from depression or anxiety, it is recommended that you see a mental health professional who may help you to further unpack any emotional and psychological triggers.
- Some studies suggest that tooth grinding and jaw clenching may also be a result of habit. Eliminate any chewing that isn’t related to food consumption from your daily activities; for example chewing gum, tobacco, nails or other habits of this nature.
- The Bruxism Association states that job-related stress could also be associated with the condition. Managing stress at work or looking for alternatives to shift-work may be helpful in some instances.
If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of bruxism, take action to prevent costly and painful dental issues by booking a medical appointment as soon as possible.