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Bruxism a.k.a Tooth Grinding: It Hurts More than Your Teeth

Is teeth grinding ruining a good night's sleep? You're not alone. About 30 to 40 million U.S. children and adults are affected by teeth grinding (bruxism), unconscious clenching, or teeth grinding. Unfortunately, this can pose risks for one's oral health and wellbeing; it can cause headaches, jaw painTMD, and even wear down the teeth.

What is Teeth Grinding?

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a condition characterized by grinding, gnashing, or clenching the teeth. Some grind or clench their teeth during the day while others suffer from nocturnal or sleep bruxism, the grinding of teeth during sleep.

Sleep bruxism is a sleep-related disorder that may occur along with other sleeping disorders like snoring and sleep apnea.

What Causes Bruxism?

A variety of reasons can cause bruxism. They can be a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors linked to stress or anxiety. Bruxism may also occur if the teeth feature misalignment or if someone has Parkinson's or Huntington's disease. Likewise, one may be at risk of developing bruxism due to a side effect of medications such as antidepressants or phenothiazine.

Other causes of bruxism are a hyperactive, competitive, aggressive personality type; acid reflux; or teething pain (in children).

A case of bruxism may be mild and not require treatment. It can also be frequent and severe. In severe cases, one may suffer from jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth, broken dental fillings, worn enamel, exposed dentin, and tooth sensitivity.

teeth grinding

What Does Bruxism Feel Like?

Because bruxism sometimes happens during sleep, symptoms may not at first be noticeable. Nevertheless, signs and symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Grinding and clenching of teeth, often loud enough to wake others up
  • Flattened, fractured, chipped, or loose teeth
  • Worn enamel of the teeth
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles or locked jaw
  • Soreness of the jaw, face, and neck
  • Earache-like pains
  • Headaches starting from the temples
  • Disrupted sleep

If you suffer from any of the later signs and symptoms, see a dentist.

How to Treat It?

There are some home remedies or self-care tips that you can use to prevent or treat bruxism.

  • Take a warm bath, listen to your favorite music, or exercise to help you alleviate stress before bed.
  • Practice good sleeping habits.
  • Avoid smoking, consuming alcohol, and drinking caffeinated beverages, especially at night, which may aggravate bruxism.
  • Stretch or massage the jaw before bed.
  • Drink water as dehydration can have associations with teeth grinding.
  • Schedule regular dental exams to identify dental conditions. The dentist can detect signs of bruxism in the jaw and mouth with regular exams and dental visits.

Dental approaches, therapies, and medication are available to prevent further tooth damage and relieve jaw pain and discomfort due to the clenching and grinding of teeth. Splints and mouth guards may be necessary to keep teeth separate to avoid damage due to bruxism.

Splints and mouth guards are made of hard acrylic or soft material and fit over the upper or lower teeth. A dental correction may also be done to reshape the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Crowns can also repair damage when tooth wear results in insensitivity or the inability to chew.

If stress or anxiety causes bruxism, stress, or anxiety management may help relieve the dental condition. Learn relaxation strategies like meditation, or get advice from a therapist or counselor for help.

Addressing sleep disorders may also be useful in reducing bruxism. If the clenching and grinding of teeth are due to side effects, changing medications may also help.

Regardless of its severity, it is crucial to identify the cause of bruxism to address it properly.


5 Ways To Help You Stop Teeth Grinding

#1 Reduce your stress and anxiety. Many of those who grind their teeth have an issue with stress and anxiety, causing them to grind their teeth in the first place. If this is the case for you, it's time to make some changes to your life.

Less work and more play is what you need, or perhaps a little vacation. If the latter doesn't work for you, counseling or therapy may be necessary. Relaxing teas, aromatherapy, more sleep, and better nutrition may also help with stress and anxiety.

#2 Try jaw exercises. Jaw exercises can help strengthen and relax your jaw and prevent teeth grinding if you perform these exercises two to three times a day, three to six times each session (or more if necessary). Try some of the following:

  1. Open and close your mouth while placing your thumb under your chin.
  2. Relax your jaw while placing a finger right inside the mouth.
  3. With your thumb and index finger placed on the top of your chin, move your jaw outwards, having it push your thumb and finger outwards.
  4. Open and close your mouth while your tongue touches the roof of your mouth.

#3 Learn to relax your jaw and face. If you find yourself clenching or grinding your jaw in the daytime, consciously pay attention to this and stop if possible. Perhaps massaging your jaw will help in your relax your jaw and face muscles.

#4 Limit your sugar and caffeine intake. Sugar and caffeine can make us hyper, stressed, and more anxious than we already are. It's vital to limit intake of these, especially before bedtime. The more sugar and caffeine we intake, the more likely we (and our jaw) will be more active during nighttime, even if we don't know it.

#5 Opt for a mouthguard. If worse comes to worst, it's time for a mouthguard. Your dentist can create a custom fit mouthguard to help relieve stress and pain.

When your child teeth grinding symptoms, a night guard can help alleviate them.

Stop Children from Grinding Their Teeth

Picture this: you’ve awakened in the middle of the night to a strange sound. But it’s nothing supernatural. As a matter of fact, the source is someone you know quite well: your own child. The teeth grinding symptoms are usually quite apparent—some might find it akin to the sound of chewing a rubber keyboard. And for the most part, your kid might not be even aware that they’re doing it in the first place. That said, how do you stop a child from grinding their teeth at night?

Like most good mysteries, it usually starts with getting to the root of the problem. Teeth grinding—also known as bruxism—can happen for many reasons. Your child might have developed the habit of coping with stress. Or maybe they have a case of teeth misalignment. Regardless, knowing what triggers those teeth grinding symptoms can help you fix up the problem once and for all.

If you’re asking how to stop a child from grinding their teeth at night, let us count the ways:

Check if your kid’s bruxism is natural

This is probably a no-brainer to most, but it’s essential to repeat regardless. This is crucial for bruxism, in particular, because not all cases need treatment. As your child’s jaw develops, there’s bound to be some snags when it comes to how their teeth align. 

Eventually, once they’re able to keep up with the pace of their developing body, your child should stop grinding their teeth in their sleep naturally. How do you know if your kid’s bruxism is natural, though? Usually, it’s if they wake up in the morning without feeling any pain. If your kid exhibits any of the following teeth grinding problems, however:

  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Chipped teeth

Then you might need to have your child’s teeth checked for further problems.

The treatment follows the cause

Once you’ve ruled out natural jaw development, it’s time to move onto other potential causes. Because each case is unique, you can’t approach different problems the same way. Here is a list of potential issues and how you can solve them:

    • Stress and anxiety. If your child’s doctor or pediatric dentist diagnoses their bruxism as something stress-related, the first thing you need to do is find ways to lessen this. Whether it's through stress counseling sessions or a visit to a child psychiatrist, it’s crucial to find the source of your child’s stress. Afterward, your child might be prescribed an exercise program to alleviate the strain on their jaw.    
    • Sleep apnea. Aside from grinding their teeth, does your child also snore heavily at night? They might just have sleep apnea. If this is the diagnosed cause, you might need to seek their dentist’s advice on how to treat it. Some dentists might refer them to an orthodontist, who can create a night guard for them to use as they sleep. The night guard not only helps them breathe better as they sleep. It can also help develop their mouth muscles in a way that’s beneficial for their oral health. 
    • Malocclusion. If their bruxism is caused by a bad bite, orthodontic intervention is usually the way to go. Whether it’s braces or invisible aligners, the habit should go away once their teeth are in alignment. Your child’s dentist might also opt to provide them with oral appliances —such as night guards—at first, if your kid is too young for braces. 
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