When you’re stressed or trying to stay focused, do you ever catch yourself clenching your teeth together? Or worse, do you or your partner notice that you grind your teeth while you sleep? If you said ‘yes’ to those questions, then you need to be aware of the consequences of BRUXISM. Bruxism is a fancy word for teeth grinding and clenching, which can lead to serious teeth and jaw damage. In today’s society, with stress levels and mental health concerns at their peak, bruxism is quite common. Truth be told, I also suffer from night-time teeth grinding, and it’s very likely that you do too, you just may not be aware of it yet.
Signs of Teeth Grinding and Clenching
- Dull headaches or earaches
- A sore, stiff or locked jaw. The soreness is commonly seen in the morning, as soon as you wake up because your jaw muscles have been used all night for teeth grinding.
- Chipped or worn down teeth → the teeth start looking flat
- Face pain
- Fatigue, since tooth grinding can often disrupt sleep
- Sensitive teeth
- Cracked teeth
Below is an example of what happens to people who grind their teeth. The teeth often start to look very flat and chipped, which can even lead to teeth sensitivity.
Causes of Teeth Grinding and Clenching
The exact cause behind bruxism is unknown, but there are a few factors that can increase teeth grinding and clenching. The big factor being STRESS! Other causes may be sugary drinks or caffeine before bed, which can make your jaw muscles more active during your sleep, alcohol, cigarettes, sleep apnea, snoring, an abnormal bite.
Before Treating Yourself, Visit a Dentist
Before the correct treatment can be recommended to you, I highly suggest you visit a dentist. Dentists can verify the type of bruxism you may be performing – teeth grinding or clenching. Also, don’t forget to tell your dentist the TIME of day your bruxism might be taking place (day-time or night-time). All of these factors will help the dentist determine the best treatment option for you from the list below.
Treatments of Teeth Grinding and Clenching
1. Awareness and Lifestyle Changes
This is often the first line of treatment that I recommend to all my patients. I try to make them AWARE of the teeth grinding and clenching, in hopes that they will go home and actively try to change their behaviour if they catch themselves clenching during the day-time. Other lifestyle changes I recommend are:
- Reducing stress levels
- Immediately stopping yourself if you find yourself clenching your teeth in front of a computer or when you’re concentrating on something
- Start meditating and massaging the jaw muscles a few minutes before bed to relax the muscles
- No sugary drinks or caffeine before bed. I actually recommend all my patients to stop drinking coffee after 1 or 2pm. This is because caffeine tends to make the muscles in your body hyperactive, plus it interupts sleep and causes restlessness. All of these things can increase your risk of tooth grinding and clenching while you sleep.
- IMPORTANT: Some people have difficulty breathing while sleeping, so they grind their teeth to open up the airways. A sign of this is snoring. Thus, if you snore during your sleep and often find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, then it might be wise to book an appointment with your GP doctor and discuss sleep apnea.
2. Use a Night Guard (also known as an Occlusal Splint)
This is my second line of treatment for my patients, and it’s the treatment I use for myself. Unfortunately, I have a really hard time meditating, and my stress levels are often high, so I tend to wear a night guard (aka an occlusal splint) to bed. If I forget to wear the night guard after a stressful day, I often wake up with a locked or stiff jaw.
BEWARE: You can find DIY nightguards in supermarkets or online. I do not recommend wearing these to bed. People who have worn a poorly fitted DIY night guard have seriously ruined their entire bite, making it impossible for them to chew. So I highly recommend getting a properly fitted night guard made specifically for your mouth from a dentist – yes, it’s more expensive, but it will be safe and it’s far more comfortable. Plus, it’s a great long-term investment.
Botox treatment is slowly becoming a popular technique to manage teeth grinding and clenching. However, it’s considered to be short-term management. This is because, you will need to top-up your Botox injections every 3-4 months to maintain its benefits, which can make it a costly treatment option for teeth grinding and clenching. However, one of the advantages of Botox is its anti-wrinkle component, which can help you look younger, thus it’s definitely an option worth exploring if you’re interested in facial aesthetics. But personally, it’s not my first line of treatment for patients looking for a long-term treatment option for bruxism.
- Tooth grinding and clenching (aka Bruxism) are VERY common. Signs of bruxism are headaches, worn down or chipped teeth, and sore jaw or jaw muscles (especially in the morning).
- Treatments for reducing tooth grinding & clenching are self-awareness, try to stress less, no caffeine or sugar before bed, jaw massages, night guard (occlusal splint), and Botox. On a side note, if you enjoy drinking coffee, then click here and read my tips on how to prevent coffee from staining your teeth.
- Visit a dentist, because they can often see the signs of tooth grinding and clenching when they look inside your mouth. Dentists can recommend the best treatment option, which will suit your needs and your lifestyle.
Written by: Dr. Sanya Arora (Doctor of Dental Surgery)