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Bruxism (or Teeth Grinding)
Bruxism, more commonly referred to as teeth grinding or teeth clenching, affects many people at all ages and sexes. It occurs during the daytime or nighttime—whenever, without realizing it, individuals slide their teeth repeatedly over each other (grinding) or hold the bottom and top rows of their teeth together tightly (clenching). Bruxism at night can be a dangerous sleep disorder because the acting person cannot control it. The condition is not particularly harmful, but grinding teeth and clenching teeth routinely over time can damage to the enamel of your teeth permanently. Grinding and clenching your teeth for extended periods of time will also cause pain in the head, ears and jaw.
Signs that You Might be Grinding Teeth
It’s not always easy to know whether you grind or clench your teeth—many people do it at night, while they’re sleeping, and never notice symptoms. However, in general, people who have bruxism might feel soreness or dull pain around the jaw area; have trouble sleeping at night (insomnia); experience heightened sensitivity to temperature and sweetness in their teeth; complain of headaches and earaches; may have an eating disorder; or may be anxious, stressed out or depressed.
Specifically, clenching teeth can cause TMJ disorder, or temporomandibular joint disorder, which makes it hard for an individual to chew as a result of pain or malfunction of the joints and muscles that attach the lower jaw to the skull. Grinding teeth, on the other hand, will eventually wear down the enamel on the teeth. It can be a noisy condition detectable by others at night if they hear your teeth rubbing against each other.
Causes of Teeth Grinding
Although no single cause of bruxism can be pinned down, the general consensus among experts is that high stress levels during the day most likely cause people to grind and clench their teeth at night. Posture, personality (for example, your ability to handle stressful situations or to relax), teeth alignment, diet and sleeping habits also affects whether a person grinds or clenches their teeth at night—as well as the severity of symptoms and damage in bruxism patients. Furthermore, it has been theorized that certain medical conditions such as arthritis and injury due to whiplash may also produce bruxism.
How Do I Stop Grinding My Teeth at Night?
Many times, simple at-home remedies for bruxism can be effective. Small changes to your nightly routine that may help reduce grinding and clenching teeth include applying heat or ice packs to reduce soreness around the jaw, avoiding very crunchy or hard foods, drinking more water, getting more sleep and practicing physical therapy (massages, muscle exercises, etc.). Usually, lowering your daily stress level will also improve bruxism symptoms.
See a sleep professional if small changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing stress and managing anxiety better, fail to improve the condition within a few weeks. Immediate attention is only necessary if soreness around your jaw and mouth make it so that you cannot eat or drink without feeling immense pain. While there is no cure for bruxism, there are steps you can take in order to control pain and permanent damage to your teeth. Depending on where you go to seek help, you may have a mouth guard or other dental device constructed to protect your teeth at night from the increased pressure exerted on them when a person grinds or clenches or you may get special orthodontic braces to adjust your bite pattern. Surgery should only be resorted to when everything else has been tried and has failed.