Bruxism is excessive clenching or grinding of teeth that is not part of the normal chewing movements. It can lead to excessive wear and cause permanent damage to the teeth and jaw joints. It often happens during sleep, but daytime habits occur also. Sometimes it is a temporary problem, but in many people, it becomes a significant, long term problem and needs to be managed by your dentist.
Causes of bruxism – the exact cause is unknown, but the following factors are thought to contribute:
- psychological stress
- physical stress
- heavy alcohol consumption
- certain antidepressant drugs
- illegal drugs/stimulant drugs
- sleep disorders
Signs and symptoms of bruxism – vary depending on the nature, frequency, duration and strength of the excessive clenching and grinding. They include:
- pain in the teeth including sensitivity to temperature
- chronic facial pain with tension headaches
- noise during sleep – this can wake or disturb partners or relatives
- flattened/worn teeth
- fractured/cracked teeth or restorations
- loose teeth
- stiffness and pain in the TMJ
People who clench only, may have more muscular pain without damage to the teeth, whereas people who grind, will usually have damaged teeth and muscular problems.
Your dentist will conduct a thorough examination, including medical history and clinical examination. Signs and symptoms will be assessed, and your treatment options outlined.
Why is grinding and clenching worth treating?
If the habit continues, irreversible damage to the teeth can occur with fracture, loosening or tooth wear, and damage to your temperomandibular joint (TMJ).
How is bruxism treated?
Sleep bruxism that is clearly established usually requires a physical barrier to prevent tooth contact. This barrier is called an occlusal splint, and the most common design involves a high strength acrylic which sits over the biting surfaces of either the upper or lower teeth. It is worn only while sleeping.