Do you ever find yourself grinding your teeth? What about just holding your teeth together? When you are concentrating, walking around, watching TV or scrolling on your phone – where are your teeth? Are they apart or do they sometimes touch? If you answer yes to any of these questions, chances are that you suffer from bruxism. Well, you may or may not be actually suffering from any symptoms, but there is some degree of damage that you should be aware of. Bruxism can have a profound impact on your oral health, and even your overall well-being without you even realising it. This blog post will hopefully give you some information about bruxism, the symptoms associated and debunk some myths as well.
Bruxism can broadly be defined as anytime the teeth are touching, when they shouldn’t be. The most obvious example is if you are grinding your teeth. However, even the act of clenching can be defined as bruxism. In fact, the official definition of bruxism includes: grinding, gnashing or clenching of the teeth. Most of the population will exhibit some from of bruxism from time to time. Have you ever been to the gym, and lifted a heavy weight – what are your teeth doing? Are they clenched together or are they apart? To really simplify what bruxism is, your teeth should only ever touch when they are used for eating. Even during talking, there are no sounds in the English language that requires the teeth to touch. The total amount of time your teeth should touch in a day should amount to less than 2 minutes. The rest of the time they should have around a 2cm space between them.
For some people, bruxism can be a long-term behaviour. It can often become a behaviour that they have very little control over. Some people are bruxers during the day. Through habit awareness, this can be controlled to some degree. Most people are bruxers during the night – in their sleep. This is much more difficult to manage.
So why do people exhibit bruxism? What causes it? Usually bruxism is caused by stress, anxiety, or some form of psychological trauma. It is a symptom through which we deal with stress. This can be any form of stress: mental (eg: work stress or exam stress) or physical (eg: illness).
Debunking Myths About Bruxism
Some people believe that bruxism is not all that bad. What’s the worse that can happen? Bruxism actually affects lot of different systems in the body. Let’s start with the teeth. Regular constant force on the teeth through clenching can cause the teeth to develop cracks. These cracks will eventually propagate and cause fractures. If you are more of a grinder the teeth are less likely to develop cracks, but they will wear instead. This means the teeth will become shorter, more worn out, and even become sensitive.
If someone is clenching throughout the night, it means the closing muscles of the jaws is working out. The muscles start to become stronger and larger. These muscles will start to overwhelm the opening muscles and there will be a greater tendency to clench the teeth. This muscle strength not only has the potential to do greater damage to the teeth, but they can become inflamed and cause facial pain. This is often in the form of tension in the face and headaches.
Clenching at night also affects how well you sleep. Most clenching occurs during the REM phase of sleep. An active clencher stays much longer in this phase and therefore much less in the deeper phases of sleep. This reduces quality of sleep and you may wake up feeling tired and lacking a good night’s sleep. In fact, bruxism is often associated with sleep apnoea – a condition where there is a lack of oxygen supplied during sleep.
Headaches from Teeth Grinding: Understanding the Connection
It is extremely common for people to develop tension and/or headaches from teeth grinding or clenching. When we clench our teeth, or grind them we are essentially exercising the grinding muscles in our mouth. Over time, these
muscles grow (hypertrophy), and can become tense. Further clenching and grinding will eventually cause these muscles to become inflamed (myositis). This inflammation can lead to chronic pain of the muscles. As these muscles are located in the side of the face (masseters) as well as into the temples (temporalis), patients will start to feel tension as well as headaches. These headaches can eventually become chronic. If you also suffer from migraines, these can become a trigger point for starting those migraines. Then we start to see a snowball effect where one problem affects another and the whole situation worsens.
Sometimes the clenching and grinding may be the cause of headaches. In other situations, clenching and grinding may contribute to existing headaches. There are many different types of headaches, but clenching and grinding is almost universally going to make most headaches worse.
Unconsciously Clenching Jaw and Anxiety: Exploring the Link
Clenching and/or grinding can easily just become something we do. Something that happens without giving it any thought. Something that we do without thinking about it, or realising we are even doing it. It becomes habitual, or an expression. This is almost universally related to stress and anxiety.
People who clench at night do so unconsciously, without control. This usually happens during the REM phase of sleep. It is often linked to sleep apnoea. The intensity, frequency and duration of clenching tends to increase with stress.
Some people clench during the day without realising it. This is also related to stress and anxiety.
Solutions And Treatments
The effects of bruxism is varied. For some people it can be debilitating and affect normal daily activities. For others it can cause longer term damage without realising.
Bruxism has an effect on muscles which may lead to acute or chronic headaches. We are able to treat those muscles directly through muscle relaxant injections. These specifically target those muscles and reduce their maximum strength. Typically the strength may reduce from 100% down to around 50%. This leaves enough to function such as chewing and speaking, but reduces the amount of damage that can occur during clenching and grinding. This does not eliminate grinding completely so some damage can still occur, but at a much reduced rate. For people that suffer from headaches, this often provides much needed relief. The treatment typically requires a program, so it’s not a one off treatment. Usually the treatment needs to be repeated at 3, 6 , 9 and 12 month intervals depending on the person.
Some people can cause significant damage to their teeth through clenching and grinding. Teeth can be worn down, or they may be weakened enough that cracks and fractures occur. Teeth can be protected from this damage through the use of an occlusal splint, or night guard. These work by absorbing the damage, so essentially you wear through the splint instead of your teeth. There are a number of different configurations of splints – which your dentist can prescribe for you.
For some people, there may be already significant damage to their teeth. In these cases, the teeth may need to be repaired or restored prior to receiving an occlusal splint.
Bruxism is something that can cause a lot of long-term damage. It is something that can cause significant irreparable damage without realising. For others, they may suffer from stress and tension without realising that it can be very simply treated. At Iconic Dentistry, we treat bruxism and its effects on a daily basis. It is
something that many people go through, but rarely talk about. If you feel like you suffer from bruxism or are not sure, please come and see us for an assessment. Damage from bruxism is cumulative. It is always better to be proactive when it comes to bruxism.