Bruxism is the habit of clenching, gnashing or grinding your teeth. Your teeth are not meant to be clenched and in contact all the time; they should only briefly touch each other when you swallow or chew.
When happening during sleep, bruxism is considered as a sleep-related disorder, and people who clench or grind their teeth during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring or sleep apnoea.
If teeth are in contact too often or too forcefully, it can wear down the tooth enamel, which is the outer layer that covers each tooth. Without this to protect the inner parts of your teeth, you may develop dental problems. Clenching or grinding your teeth regularly can also lead to pain in the jaw or in the muscles of the face. Bruxism mostly happens during sleep, but some people also suffer from this when awake.
Mild bruxism may not require treatment. However, in some people, bruxism can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems.
Because you may have sleep bruxism and be unaware of it until complications develop, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bruxism and to seek regular dental care.
Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
- Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough to awaken your sleep partner
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
- Worn tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of your tooth
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Jaw or face pain or soreness
- Tired or tight jaw muscles
- Pain that feels like an earache,
- Dull headache originating in the temples
- Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek
We don’t completely understand what causes bruxism but possible physical or psychological causes may include an incredibly wide range of factors including tension, stress, sleep apnoea, abnormal alignment of the upper and lower teeth, stomach acid reflux, Response to pain from an earache, and even complications resulting from a disorder such as Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
In most cases, bruxism doesn’t cause serious complications. But severe bruxism may lead to damage to your teeth, restorations, crowns or jaw, headaches, facial pain and disorders that occur in the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), located just in front of your ears, which may sound like clicking when you open and close your mouth.
In many cases, treatment isn’t necessary. Many kids outgrow bruxism without treatment, and many adults don’t grind or clench their teeth badly enough to require therapy. However, if the problem is severe, treatment options include certain dental approaches, therapies and medications.
If you have bruxism, your doctor or dentist may suggest ways to preserve or improve your teeth that will prevent or correct the wear to your teeth.
The principal recommendation will be a Splint or a Mouth Guards. These are designed to keep teeth separated to avoid the damage caused by clenching and grinding and are constructed of acrylic or soft materials and fit over your upper or lower teeth.
Correcting teeth that aren’t properly aligned may help if your bruxism seems to be related to dental problems. In severe cases when tooth wear has led to sensitivity or the inability to chew properly your dentist may need to reshape the chewing surfaces of your teeth or use crowns. In certain cases, your dentist may recommend braces or oral surgery.
It’s important to protect your teeth and prevent the problem worsening as soon as possible and splints are an inexpensive way of doing so. For under £15 you can purchase a splint that will shape to your dental profile using the ‘boil and bite’ method. For a little more money you can have made a custom-fitted version that fits just your upper set, or by special request the lower set, dependent on which is required. Both types are worn at night.
Either type will protect your teeth from further damage and help you sleep better. Many sufferers start with the ‘instant splint’ and then move on to the custom night guard for longer-term protection.