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Everything You Need to Know About Bruxism & Jaw Clenching

wisdom tooth pain

Life is stressful – everyone clenches their jaw or grinds their teeth occasionally. Whether during the day or at night, it’s a subconscious physical expression of stress and anxiety. If it’s just every so often that you grind your teeth, it’s no big deal. But if it’s a daily, nightly or all-the-time thing, you’re going to end up with some issues, the least of which is wearing your teeth down over time.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the medical term for habitually grinding and/or clenching your teeth. Awake bruxism is when this habit happens subconsciously during the day, like if you’re stressed, anxious, or thinking really hard about something.

Sleep bruxism, also called nocturnal bruxism, is when you clench or grind your teeth at night, and is by far the most commonly-treated form of habitual jaw clenching. Researchers have done sleep studies on this type of bruxism to determine whether or not it’s a sleep disorder. While the jury’s still out, it does appear that nocturnal teeth grinding originates as a disturbance in your central nervous system.

Who Grinds Their Teeth?

A lot of people! 10% of adults and 15% of kids grind their teeth habitually, most of them at night. And while the source of the disturbance may reside in the CNS, it doesn’t just spontaneously appear there; health, personality and lifestyle factors are strong contributors.

Risk factors for developing bruxism include:

  • Sleep apnea
  • High-stress lifestyle
  • Excessive, regular alcohol consumption
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • SSRIs

 

Bruxism can also simply be caused by missing/crooked teeth and/or a misaligned jaw.

How Do You Know if You Have Sleep Bruxism?

How are you supposed to be able to tell if you, a loved one, or your child is suffering from nocturnal bruxism? There are some easy-to-spot signs and symptoms that say it’s probably time to go see your oral surgeon and sort this out:

  • Daily dull headaches in the morning that may last all day
  • Visible wear to the molars
  • Sore teeth and/or jaw in the morning
  • Broken teeth
  • Painful and/or loose teeth
  • Trouble chewing without discomfort
  • Ear pain
  • Tender jaw muscles

Is Jaw Clenching & Teeth Grinding Bad for You?

As you can see, the symptoms of chronic jaw clenching are reason enough to want to correct the issue – who wants to wake up with daily headaches and be rendered unable to eat delicious things like pulled-pork-smothered nachos? But the dangers of letting bruxism go untreated reach far past missing out on your diet cheat days. Complications include:

  • TMJ/TMD
  • Broken and fallen-out teeth
  • Extreme wear that requires tooth extraction and replacement
  • Changes in facial appearance

How Can I Stop Grinding My Teeth?

The good news is, there are a bunch of ways you and your dentist or oral surgeon can resolve your bruxism and relax your jaw. We offer mitigation methods to protect your teeth from the chronic grinding, but the best way to truly stop your bruxism is often up to you.

Lifestyle habits to stop bruxism

  • Exercise regularly
  • Cut out caffeine
  • Pick up yoga or meditation
  • For awake bruxism, train yourself to place the tip of your tongue between your teeth each time you notice yourself clenching. It will teach your jaw muscles to relax
  • Avoid alcohol before sleep
  • Tongue and jaw exercises

Medical intervention for bruxism

  • Stress counseling
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-anxiety medication (not SSRIs)
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Treating the underlying disorder, such as in cases of bruxism caused by sleep apnea

Dental intervention for bruxism

  • Mouthguards
  • Splints
  • Reductive coronoplasty (levels biting surfaces)
  • Botox in the masseter (chewing) muscle

No one wants to lose their teeth early and end up with dental implants they don’t need, bridges in your 20’s, or dentures before you even go gray. With diligent self-care and proper attention from your doctor or a dental specialist, it’s an extremely treatable problem.

As the kids say on TikTok: this is your reminder to unclench your jaw.

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