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The daily grind | Why grinding teeth (bruxism) is bad for you

Do you ever wake up with a headache or a sore neck? There are a number of reasons this could be happening, but one you might not be aware of is Bruxism.

‘Bruxism’ is the medical term for teeth grinding. Although we can all be prone to teeth grinding or jaw clenching during occasional times of stress, when Bruxism occurs regularly and for long periods, the pressure on the teeth and gums can cause pain and damage teeth.

Bruxism can occur during the day, but most often occurs during sleep, so many people who are impacted by this condition may not be aware they are doing it. They wake with a headache, sore neck, jaw pain and even earaches, and don’t understand why.

What causes Bruxism?

One main cause of Bruxism is stress. Stress is an aspect of life that we can try to minimise, but that we can rarely avoid. Bruxism can be linked to anxiety, tension and physical and emotional pain.

Some other potential causes of Bruxism include long periods of concentration, illness, lack of proper nutrition, irregular bite or uneven points on a filling, improper use of medications and teeth erupting in children.[1]

Bruxism can be experienced to varying degrees. Sometimes it can be temporary and will disappear when, for example, a period of high-stress is over.  However, for many people it is long-term and severe, to the point where family members complain they can hear the grinding.  This is particularly common with children.

It’s not just the teeth that can be impacted by Bruxism. The temporomandibular joints (the jaw joints that are used for chewing) can become stiff and painful, and people could experience problems opening and closing the jaw, along with severe headaches.

Many medical doctors recognise Bruxism as a contributor, and sometimes the sole cause of a variety of ailments. In fact, it is not unusual for a GP to recommend a consultation with an oral health professional.

How is Bruxism diagnosed and treated?

Your oral health professional will be able to diagnose Bruxism. They will conduct a thorough examination, and look for signs that might include worn, flattened or chipped teeth, broken fillings, tooth sensitivity and headaches.

If your oral health professional suspects Bruxism, they will also discuss your overall health. This will help your oral health professional to determine the severity of your Bruxism and to develop a treatment plan.  For example:

  • If it seems your Bruxism is caused by an irregular bite, your oral health professional might simply adjust your bite, resulting in pain reduction.

  • Other causes might require longer-term treatment, including creating a custom-fit bite splint that is worn at night and stops the upper and lower teeth from making contact. This light acrylic upper guard will not only protect the teeth from damage, it will also relieve jaw pressure.

  • In some cases, painkillers might be initially prescribed to help ease pain and promote relaxation at night.

As well as treating the Bruxism, your oral health professional will also address the damage that it may have caused. Teeth may need restoring, while cosmetic options or orthodontics might be suggested to realign or straighten damaged teeth.  People who have experienced significant pain as a result of Bruxism are often surprised and grateful to discover that, after their teeth grinding issues have been diagnosed, their pain has subsided.

Once Bruxism is diagnosed, and steps are taken to address the condition, it is worthwhile looking into other activities that might help to reduce stress. These might include regular exercise, yoga, massage or meditation – any activity that will help you to relax.

By seeking and following the advice of an oral health professional for Bruxism, as well as taking steps to reduce the stress in your life, you will not only reduce your pain, you will be well on the way to also improving your general health.

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