Bruxism has some painful and damaging consequences for your teeth, joints and muscles. Your teeth are made of the hardest substance the body can produce, and when they’re grinding against each other the tooth enamel can crack, shatter, and wear away leaving you with a broken or stumpy smile. Worn enamel can’t protect the delicate inner tissues of your teeth like it’s supposed to, causing anything from toothaches to decayed teeth that must be pulled and replaced.
The enormous pressure exerted on your temporomandibular (jaw) joint can lead to one of many TMJ disorders, including dislocation and arthritis. And we haven’t even mentioned stress on the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders or the tension headaches that bruxism sufferers often experience. Suffice it to say bruxism is bad news.
The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to relieve the pain and even fix the causes of your bruxism to eliminate the problem altogether. The first step is to bring your concerns up to your dentist. If you don’t know what to say, take a look at our helpful guide for some good questions to ask and things to keep in mind during your conversation.
Once you know more about your unique case of bruxism you can better choose a treatment option. For instance, if you don’t clench very hard, you could save money by getting a well-designed night guard from a drugstore instead of paying $400 or more for a hand-crafted night guard from your dentist. Or if your bruxing is caused by emotional stress you can get a temporary night guard while you take steps to relax and relieve the tension.
Questions for the Dentist
How hard am I bruxing?
If you’re a very hard grinder, a rigid, hand-crafted nightguard might be your only option. An OTC nightguard will provide you some relief while you wait for your custom guard to come in from the dentist.
Could my bruxism be a symptom of something else?
Sometimes bruxism is a side effect or indicator of a different problem. Most often it’s a symptom of stress, but can also indicate some problems with prescription medications or other, more serious, medical conditions. Your dentist will help you determine if you’re at risk for any of these problems.
Is a dental problem contributing to my bruxism?
Malocclusion and crooked or missing teeth are often factors in bruxism. Your doctor can recommend ways to fix the problem at the source and eliminate your grinding that way. He can also recommend ways to relieve the pressure while other problems are addressed, including how to fit a night guard to accommodate your unique situation.
What are bruxism symptoms like?
Bruxism affects many systems and functions of your body, so isolating symptoms can be a little confusing. Since damage from tooth grinding increases over time, recognizing the warning signs and getting help fast can save you pain, time, and money.
Muscle pain in your jaw
- Facial pain.
- Broken or cracked teeth.
- Worn tooth enamel – the yellowish dentin will start to show through in some cases.
- Increased sensitivity.
- Stiff or locked jaw when you wake up.
- Increased muscle tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Tension headaches.
Be sure to ask your sleeping partner whether or not they hear you grinding at night. Often the grinding noise will be loud enough to disturb their sleep.
Stress Relief Suggestions
First, you need to understand that stress is chemical – it’s nothing more than hormones running around in your brain. And stress hormones are good things! That “fight or flight” reaction we call stress is essential for adaptation and sometimes even survival. However, prolonged stress keeps high levels of these hormones in your system for a long time and causes you to over-respond when faced with new stressors. Basically, if you stay stressed for a long time you’ll just get more stressed. Yikes!
Here are some good ways to deal with the wacky levels of stress hormones running around in your body.
EXCERCISE – Since we get that “fight or flight” response most often in places we can’t fight or flee, hormone levels stay elevated at an unhealthy level for too long. Exercise (“fighting” or “fleeing”) works those hormones and neurochemicals out of your system. Even as little as one 20-minute walk a day will have a positive impact on your health.
Create a comfortable routine – No, don’t schedule every second of your day hoping to avoid surprises. That’ll just make it worse. Do, however, create a comfortable framework that can support you through times of instability. Habits and predictability can be very soothing and give you a chance to prepare for future changes.
Take a break – Get away from whatever is stressing you for a while and decompress. Count to ten. Breathe. Take a walk. Do something, anything, to interrupt the stress cycle. Uninterrupted stress is very harmful, so breaking it up will help you get those hormones back down to manageable levels.
Think twice about medicating – Some prescription anxiety medications can make the stress response even stronger, making trivial issues trigger big surges of stress chemicals. Retreating into treatments that address the symptoms of stress often prevents us from addressing stressors at the source and actually eliminating them or controlling their impact on our lives. That said, only a conversation with your doctor can determine the best way to go, so be sure to bring up your concerns at your next appointment.
It should go without saying that illegal drugs and abuse of alcohol and prescription medications will most definitely make the issue worse. Avoid using them for stress relief at all costs.