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Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Bruxism is the correct term for excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching. It is known as a parafunctional activity; in other words, it is unrelated to normal function such as eating and/or talking. Approximately 70% of cases are related to stress or anxiety.
Bruxism doesn’t always cause symptoms and because many people do it in their sleep, they are only made aware of it by their dentist or a loved one may report that they hear them grinding their teeth during the night.
Signs of bruxism;
- Constant headache or sore jaw especially on waking.
- Facial pain due to muscles being overworked at night.
- Pain on opening and closing your mouth especially when eating. The jaw joint (temporomandibular joint/TMJ) may feel stiff on opening.
- Earache due to the ear being in very close proximity to the painful TMJ.
- Teeth chipping, becoming loose or even losing teeth.
- Teeth becoming shorter in size with or without pain and sensitivity. This is due to the grinding action removing the protective enamel. This can be quite pronounced in some individuals.
How to help prevent and treat it;
- Avoid caffeine especially late at night before bedtime e.g. coffee and fizzy drinks.
- Avoid alcohol as this can make grinding more intense.
- Avoid recreational drugs which can cause teeth grinding.
- As it’s mostly related to stress, stress counselling and relaxation methods are important to help manage your anxiety.
- Anti-inflammatories are useful in managing pain along with hot and cold compresses.
- If pain is severe, your GP may recommend muscle relaxants for a short period of time.
- Your dentist may recommend a mouth guard for night time use which is also called a splint. This helps protect your teeth and can help to break the habit.
Remember that your teeth should never be in contact unless you are eating. A lot of people will clench or grind during the day as well, putting your facial muscles, teeth and TMJ under a lot of pressure so try and make a conscious effort of relaxing throughout the day if possible.