Bruxism, otherwise known as teeth grinding, is when you clench (tightly hold your top and bottom teeth together) or grind (slide your teeth back and forth over each other) your teeth, that may or may not cause harm. When teeth clenching or grinding occurs on a regular basis the teeth may become damaged and possible other possible oral health issues may develop.
People may clench and grind their teeth without being aware of it during both the day and night. When it is sleep-related, bruxism is often the bigger problem because of the lack of control. Because it does occur during sleep most people are unaware of the problem until symptoms begin to arise. While some of these symptoms are headaches or a sore jaw, they are masked by other factors such as too much stress, inability to relax, misalignment of the teeth, or even ones posture or diet.
The cause of bruxism is not completely agreed upon, but daily stress may be the precipitant in many cases. The clenching the teeth may be brought on by anxiety, stress or depression. Other symptoms may include ear aches, insomnia and/or sensitivity in the teeth. The clenching or grinding puts pressure on the muscles, tissues, and other structures around your jaw. The symptoms may develop into temporomandibular joint problems, commonly referred to as TMJ.
If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist. An examination can rule out other disorders that may cause similar jaw pain or ear pain, including:
- Dental disorders
- Ear disorders such as ear infections
- Problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
Your dentist can examine your mouth and jaw for signs of bruxism, such as jaw tenderness and abnormalities in your teeth. If it is diagnosed as night grinding, you can be fitted with a mouth or night guard (a splint) to prevent further damage to your teeth and other issues mentioned above. The varying types of splints may prevent clenching and create a scenario where your mouth remains relaxed during sleep or during the day. There are many approaches to retard the clenching behavior, many of which are more successful to daytime clench and grinders verses night clenchers.
Given that grinding and clenching may not fall within any one medical discipline, it may take a combination of approaches to permanently solve the problem. However, dentist would appear to have the leg up on the other disciplines, given the amount of training and experience dentists have with your oral health. Regardless, call the health care provider you are comfortable with to seek solutions to this potentially damaging oral health problem.
Novy Scheinfeld, DDS, PC
290 Carpenter Drive, 200A
Atlanta (Sandy Springs), GA 30328
- Dentist Roswell: Do Children Grind Their Teeth? (therightsmile.wordpress.com)
- Causes and Solutions for Night Bruxism (fyiliving.com)
- Common Oral Health Problems (everydayhealth.com)
 ADA and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002386/, Feb. 22, 2010.