Bruxism is an (often unconscious) habit of grinding, clenching, or gnashing your teeth. It occurs most often during times of intense stress, and while sleeping. In some cases, it is caused by missing or misaligned teeth. No matter what the cause, bruxism poses a serious threat to your oral health.
Do you grind your teeth?
Although it may seem like a fairly harmless habit, it can cause fatigue in your jaw (TMJ) joint. Over time, you may develop TMD, a disorder of the jaw that can result in chronic pain. Additionally, grinding will wear the enamel off your teeth, or cause fractures. This leaves your teeth susceptible to decay and infection, which increases the risk of gum disease.
You may have bruxism and not even know it. This is particularly true if you grind your teeth while sleeping. The most common symptoms include:
- Jaw pain
- Difficulty chewing
- Sensitive, aching, or loose teeth
- Fractured or broken teeth
- Worn down teeth, especially if the wear is uneven
You dentist can provide you with a custom-made oral appliance, designed to prevent clenching or grinding your teeth at night. When the problem occurs during the day, you can make a conscious effort to avoid it. However, that may be more difficult than it sounds, as the habit is typically unconscious.
Stress management may be beneficial to your oral and overall health. With today’s challenging economy, the average American is experiencing an increased level of stress. This can lead to unhealthy eating (comfort foods are often sugary), and increased bruxism. Preliminary studies have also linked stress to periodontal disease. Unfortunately, many people skip regular dental exams in an effort to save money. The combination of these factors can quickly lead to painful and costly dental problems.
If you find the stress level in your life difficult to manage, therapies such as counseling or meditation may be helpful. Your dentist may recommend special exercises designed to soothe the muscles. In some cases, muscle relaxers may be prescribed.
Every patient, and every situation, is unique. It is important to work with your dentist in developing a treatment plan that works for you.