Over the years, several of my patients have come to me with symptoms of chronic earache, headache, sore jaw, or not sleeping very well. Though these symptoms can be associated with many medical conditions, bruxism, or chronic teeth grinding, is one problem you may not be aware of. That’s why I’d like to talk to you about chronic teeth grinding and the damage it can do to your health.
Bruxism: What’s Grinding You?
Chronic teeth grinding – formally known as bruxism – is a condition in which you continually clench, or grind, your teeth. This can happen during the day, without you being aware of it, or during your sleep. Your dentist often diagnoses the condition when the condition of your teeth makes it apparent that you are grinding your teeth. The condition can also affect your inner mouth structures, jawbones, and ears. The effects can be mild or severe depending on how often, or intensely, you grind, or clench, your teeth. Here are some common symptoms:
- Worn, flattened, chipped teeth, or fractured fillings, damage to crowns, bridges, etc
- Increased tooth sensitivity, facial pain
- Soreness/tightness in the jaw muscles, chronic aching/tiredness of the jaw, damage to the bone, or nerves around it resulting in TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome.
- Chronic earaches or headaches in which no other medical cause is found
- Damage to tissues from chewing on the inside of your cheek
- Your partner can hear you grinding your teeth as you sleep
What Can Cause Chronic Teeth Grinding?
If you chronically grind your teeth, it’s a good bet that something in your life is “grinding” you. Stress, anxiety, worry are some of the most frequent causes of this condition. Life situations that may cause you to suppress anger or frustration can also contribute to the problem. Other aggravating factors can include:
- Hyperactivity disorder; aggressive, combative personality disorders
- Too much caffeine, or alcohol, during the day, especially near bedtime
- Misalignment of upper and lower teeth. Did you recently have a filling that may not have been fitted properly?
- Complications of certain neurological disorders like Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease
- Side effect of some psychiatric medications – antidepressants – or recreational “upper, speed” types of medications
What Can You Do To Stop Teeth Grinding?
Even though your medical doctor may assess if your jaw, ear, or headache pain is from chronically grinding your teeth, your dentist can assess any damage to your teeth or dental work. You may even be referred to a sleep specialist for a PSG – polysomnogram – sleep study. This can tell your doctor/dentist if you’re also grinding and clenching during your sleep. You may also need a certain type of x-ray called a Panorex to determine TMJ damage.
Bruxism is often treated by wearing a mouth guard during sleeping to stop the nightly grinding. During the day, try to become more aware when your jaw starts to feel tight or sore. You’re likely clenching your jaw then. Placing the tip of your tongue between your front teeth can help relax your jaw. The more aware you become of grinding/clenching, the easier it is for you to stop doing it. Here are some other things to note before your visit:
- Write down any medications, as well as herbal, vitamin supplements, that you take
- Honestly assess how much caffeine or alcohol you drink daily
- Are there any major issues in your life that are causing stress or suppressed anger?
Bruxism is often a temporary condition caused by life stressors. However, it can cause some long-term damage to your teeth and jaw bones if it’s not diagnosed and stopped. Reduce stress in your life by exercising more and solving the problems fueling it. Talking to a friend, or counselor, can help. Cutting down caffeine and/or alcohol consumption will also help.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.