If you’ve ever woken up to a sore jaw or a mysterious toothache, it might be because of sleep bruxism. Bruxism, a common condition among children and adolescents, is the involuntary clenching and grinding of teeth during sleep.
It usually goes away on its own for most children, but some develop them well into adulthood and end up having to deal with the painful consequences.
While it’s common to clench your jaw and grind your teeth when nervous or anxious, it rarely does any real damage to the teeth because you’re awake and can stop yourself anytime. Sleep bruxism, however, is a different story because you are not aware of the forceful and repetitive movement. It may not sound serious, but bruxism symptoms can range from mild to severe.
What are the symptoms of bruxism?
Teeth grinding can be spotted relatively easily by a dentist because they show apparent somatic consequences. These symptoms may include:
- Jaw, neck, and ear pain
- Enlarged facial muscles
- Facial pain
- Headaches near the temples
- Teeth sensitivity (weakened enamel)
- Gum sensitivity
- Broken, chipped, or cracked teeth
- Loose fillings
- Tongue indentations
- Damaged/ragged inside cheek
- Popping or clicking of temporomandibular joint
What causes bruxism?
- Sleep-related disorders – Obstructive sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, sleep talking.
- Medical conditions – Gastroesophageal reflux disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy
- Medications – Antidepressants, antipsychotics
- Psychological conditions – Anxiety, dementia, ADHD
- Lifestyle – Alcohol intake, recreational drug use, smoking, caffeinated drinks
- Family history of teeth grinding
- Aggressive and hyperactive personality
Should I get bruxism treatment?
Bruxism treatment isn’t always necessary. It depends on how complex the situation is because many people outgrow it when they get older. If left unchecked, however, it can lead to long-term problems. Bruxism places constant stress on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Over time, it can cause chronic pain: headaches, pain while chewing, muscle tension, and even the inability to open the mouth completely.
In any case, bruxism treatment isn’t always uniform either. Teeth grinding may simply be a symptom of a more specific condition. It depends on whether lifestyle factors or your current medications cause your sleep bruxism. The treatment options range from specific dental approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even medicines for extreme pain. While there is no complete cure for bruxism, the methods below can significantly reduce its frequency and relieve its symptoms.
Intraoral devices such as mouthguards, occlusal splints, bite guards, and bite plates help stop the grinding because they bar the upper teeth from making contact with the lower teeth. These rubber and plastic devices are custom-made by dentists to fit appropriately to your mouth. These devices are worn during sleep to reduce the effects of teeth grinding.
Mandibular advancement devices are alternative intraoral devices. They also go over the top and bottom teeth but place more focus on holding the jaw in a particular position by bringing the mandible forward. People that grind their teeth because of sleep apnea and excessive snoring also use these devices.
Discuss with your dentist about possible restorative dental treatments. Your dentist will examine how destructive the grinding has been and may decide to put crowns, veneers, or dental implants on top of your teeth. They can also help adjust your bite or the way your top and bottom teeth meet to reduce the chances of grinding in your sleep.
Certain personality types can contribute to the risk of developing bruxism. If you’re more sensitive to stress and quickly get nervous, you may be more prone than others to clench your jaw and develop sleep bruxism. With this, it’s important to develop coping skills to help you calm your mind and relax your body.
Make time for a few minutes of relaxation activities before bed. Try doing meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and even just taking a warm, relaxing bath. Read a book you like and listen to some calming music. Nurturing a quiet, peaceful mood can do wonders and help you get a good night’s sleep.
If your lifestyle is a primary cause of bruxism, then it’s time to stop smoking and drinking caffeine or alcohol at night. Avoid eating large meals before bed, too. It’s essential to set the appropriate atmosphere for sleeping, so make sure your bedroom is quiet, relaxed, and at a comfortable temperature.
While this is often avoided as much as possible because of its potential side effects, a healthcare professional may recommend medication for persistent and severe cases. One option may be to intake muscle relaxant drugs that suppress motor activity, such as clonazepam. Some muscle relaxants belong to the class of medications prescribed for anxiety treatment.
A more acute option for people who don’t respond to other treatments is botulinum toxin or botox. It targets the masseter muscle, which is responsible for clenching and chewing. Botox, however, warrants a thorough discussion with your doctor before making any decisions.