When one clenches his or her teeth together habitually, or grinds them by sliding them back and forth against one another, it is called bruxism. Dentists are seeing more and more patients with bruxism showing up in their offices. Our busy lives can be very stressful, which leads to unconscious clenching during the day, and/or clenching and grinding during sleep. The grinding can be so disruptive that sleeping partners are often awoken by the noise. Oftentimes a person first becomes aware of their bruxism because the noise of the grinding in the night has been mentioned by a partner.
Often the symptoms of bruxism are mild, but can progress to the point where treatment becomes necessary. While bruxism doesn’t always lead to severe symptoms, it can lead to temporomandibular jaw disorders, headaches or even earaches. Earaches occur in part due to referred pain (pain that appears in areas close to the area where the trauma is occurring), but also because the temporormandibular joint is quite close to the ear, affecting the ear structure. Other symptoms may include sore teeth and jaw, increased tooth sensitivity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and insomnia. Left untreated the grinding action can cause teeth to weaken, create abnormal wear patterns, cracking of the tooth’s enamel, and even fracturing of the teeth themselves. Extreme cases can lead to tooth loss and receding gums.
Both children and adults can be affected by bruxism. Consulting a dentist will help to determine the course of action needed to combat the negative effects of this issue. Children often outgrow their clenching and grinding by adolescence, but can benefit from stress reduction techniques. They can be coached to talk about their fears, or take warm baths or read a book before bed. These relaxation techniques can help calm them before falling off to sleep. Adults also benefit from stress reduction. If adults see a therapist, or practice other relaxation techniques, it can be greatly beneficial to inducing calm before sleep. Sometimes behavior therapy is effective. By learning to notice the clenching and grinding it can then be countered by consciously relaxing the jaws.
Other helpful aids are splints and teeth guards. Teeth guards can be purchased over the counter at the local drug store, but they are often ill-fitting, and can slip during the night. Splints are hard acrylic guards fitted by a dentist, and while they are more expensive than mouth guards, they are sturdier and wear better. It is always advisable to consult a dentist when experiencing oral pain. Self-diagnosing a medical disorder isn’t wise as it is an easy thing to misdiagnose what is actually going on, and then apply the wrong treatment. Visiting a dentist will give an accurate appraisal of the situation, and from there an appropriate course of treatment can be determined.
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