Do you ever find yourself clenching your teeth or waking up with a sore jaw when you’re feeling particularly anxious about something? Maybe it happens when you’re stressed out about work or have a big project due for school, or maybe you’re one of the millions of Americans who experience chronic teeth grinding! Also known as bruxism, experts estimate that about 1 in every 5 adults spends a significant part of every day grinding their teeth without even realizing it. Chronic teeth grinding can lead to several dental issues, ranging from mild soreness to lockjaw and migraines. Here at Cashmere Family Dentistry, our goal is to help every patient have the best, brightest, and healthiest smile possible. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about teeth grinding, the possible causes, and how our expert team can help you get a handle on it! Keep reading below for more information.
The basics of bruxism
As noted above, the technical term for teeth grinding is bruxism. We use this to describe any type of involuntary and excessive grinding, clenching, or rubbing of the teeth that happens outside of normal chewing, swallowing, or speaking movements. There are three basic types of bruxism, each of which may require a different treatment approach.
This is the most common type of teeth grinding, and it occurs only (or mostly) during the hours a patient is asleep. You may not even be aware that you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep, except when you wake up the next morning with a stiff jaw and a headache! Anyone nearby has probably noticed it, however, and has likely been awakened by the sound once or twice.
This type of bruxism is a bit less common, but it does tend to be easier to identify and treat. We frequently see awake bruxism in patients who clench their teeth tightly or grind them when they are feeling anxious or under a great deal of stress.
We often see an increase in bruxism when a child’s baby teeth come in, and again when their permanent teeth are erupting. In many cases, children outgrow the teeth grinding habit in their teens or early adulthood, but it’s not uncommon for bruxism to develop into a problem that patients face through adulthood.
No matter what type of bruxism you struggle with, you run the risk of developing serious health problems, including:
- excessive wear and tear of the tooth enamel
- chipped or loose teeth
- teeth with a “flattened” appearance
- tooth pain or increased sensitivity
- tired or tight jaw muscles
- trouble opening or closing the jaw completely
- jaw, neck or face pain or soreness
- earache-like pain
- interrupted sleep
Why am I grinding my teeth?
While there’s no simple explanation for what causes bruxism, experts believe it’s likely due to a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors. We’ll highlight some of these here.
This is perhaps the most common issue associated with teeth grinding. In fact, almost a quarter of all people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) also experience sleep bruxism. In fact, one of the main risk factors for sleep-related bruxism is OSA! Teeth grinding often happens after an OSA episode as part of a survival mechanism to open the airway.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is another sleep-related disorder with a connection to teeth grinding. Those who deal with chronic snoring and sleep talking may also have a higher likelihood of developing bruxism.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are two of the biggest contributors to developing bruxism, but there are also many ways to address them! If you tend to be naturally anxious, or have recently noticed an increase in your teeth grinding, it can help to explore various relaxation methods. These might include deep breathing, calming music, meditation, walking outside, or a warm bath before bed.
We see this in children more often than adults, but patients of any age can have misalignment between their teeth and jaw that may lead to teeth grinding. Dental specialists like Dr. Janie Busk, Dr. Ryan Busk, and Dr. Danielle Harris are trained to recognize orthodontic issues like these and will be able to recommend the appropriate treatment for them. Some malocclusions can even be treated here in our office using the Invisalign clear aligner system!
Medications, medical conditions, and genetic causes
There are certain medications and medical conditions for which bruxism can be a side effect, particularly neurological conditions. Teeth grinding can also be inherited. If others in your family have ever experienced bruxism, you’re more likely to develop it as well.
How can bruxism be prevented or treated?
If teeth grinding has been causing issues for you, we encourage you to contact our office to schedule an appointment with our doctors. They’ll conduct a thorough examination of your teeth and will be able to determine if the grinding is causing any damage. The good news is that there are many different ways to help reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with bruxism!
Bruxism can be a side effect of using certain substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and some medications for depression and anxiety. Cutting down on or limiting the use of these substances may help your teeth grinding problems disappear.
Stress and anxiety management
We’ve already mentioned it a few times, but a large percentage of bruxism cases are caused in part by stress and anxiety. Relaxation techniques, therapy, and regular exercise can help relieve some of the negative emotions that may put—and keep!—your teeth on edge.
Jaw exercises and massage
Gently stretching and massaging the jaw muscles can help relax them and prevent the jaw from clenching at night. Applying hot packs or a warm washcloth to the area can also be helpful.
Mouthguards and splints
A dentist like Dr. Ryan, Dr. Janie, or Dr. Harris can prescribe mouthguards or splints to create a physical barrier between the upper and lower teeth. This helps prevent further wear and tear to your teeth from the grinding, but keep in mind that it won’t treat the root cause of your bruxism itself.
This method can be more effective than other treatments, and is generally reserved for more extreme cases of teeth grinding. Botox® is injected directly into the masseter muscles of the jaw to help weaken and relax them, which helps to prevent involuntary teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
Treat underlying conditions or associated disorders
The diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions which are associated with bruxism can improve the symptoms. This includes sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), among others. If our doctors determine this is the case with your bruxism, they can refer you to a trusted sleep doctor who will consult with our practice to give you the best care possible!
Give your teeth a break from bruxism with Cashmere Family Dentistry
As with any health condition, it’s important to first find the root cause of the problem in order to find an appropriate treatment. If you’re experiencing problems with teeth grinding, get in touch with our office to learn what treatment options could be right for you!
Our expert team will be able to help reduce the amount of grinding and prevent further damage, and Dr. Janie, Dr. Ryan, and Dr. Danielle can also treat any damage that is already present. This may involve addressing any obvious underlying causes, such as stress and anxiety, as well as proactive treatment like a mouthguard made specifically to protect your teeth.
Have you been losing sleep or struggling to get through the day due to teeth grinding? We’re here to help you rest better and start smiling again! If you’re in Wenatchee or the surrounding areas, get in touch with us today and help us protect your smile.