Sleep bruxism or teeth grinding during nighttime is a common sleeping disorder in the human population. However, this parasomnia has caused a lot of debate in the medical world. While most experts agree on the potential consequences of untreated bruxism, a lot of them have a different opinion when it comes to the set of causes that lead to the development of this disorder.
Different studies have been conducted in order to answer important questions that sleep bruxism has raised. Thanks to those researches, today we know more about what could be causing teeth grinding at night, and what are the ways to make it stop. In this article, you are going to find out if you’re at risk of developing bruxism, if you are already a teeth grinder despite not being aware of it, and what are the things that might be causing bruxism in your case.
Let’s first learn what bruxism is and what are its symptoms.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is a condition of grinding, gnashing or clenching teeth during the awake time or during sleep. Sleep bruxism is much more common than the aware type of teeth grinding.
Bruxism, which comes from the Greek word “brychein” meaning ” teeth grinding”, is a sleep-related movement disorder and it is represented by involuntary, unconscious movements during sleep.
While people can also grind teeth when awake, a much bigger problem is the sleep bruxism and here’s why: Most people aren’t aware of the teeth grinding occurring at night unless someone tells them about it. As a result, the condition of bruxism may persist for years without the individual discovering about it.
The consequences of this sleep-related disorder are various and do not include only dental problems. Effects bruxism can have on one’s body are diverse and can be very painful. Therefore, understanding some underlying health problems that are implying the existence of such a problem might be a crucial step in minimizing the risks of bruxism and helping yourself have not only some healthy sleep but some healthy teeth too.
Because this condition affects how well we sleep, people suffering from sleep bruxism are more prone to having other sleep-related disorders. The body should be completely relaxed during sleep, and tensing the muscles in order to clench your teeth is making it impossible for your body to enter deep, restful sleep.
This is another reason why discovering if you have bruxism or not is crucial in your good sleep and overall health.
What Are The Symptoms Of Bruxism?
But, if a lot of people aren’t even aware that they are suffering from bruxism, how do you know if you have it? Well, unless your bed partner complains about it, you will have to read some signs your body is giving you.
While your dentist will surely be able to tell you more precisely if you have it or not, there are some symptoms that could easily imply that you are clenching and grinding your teeth while asleep.
Most common signs of nighttime tooth grinding AKA bruxism are:
- Excessive wear on your teeth
- Jaw tenderness
- Tooth pain
- Jaw pain
- Swelling in the jaw
- Broken or chipped teeth
- Changes in the shape of teeth
What Causes Bruxism?
While probably all medical experts would agree on this sleep-related movement condition’s symptoms and consequences, there are different opinions when it comes to the causes of it. However, it is agreed that bruxism definitely has multifactorial causes.
For example, in the past, it was believed that morphological factors were the main factors causing bruxism. According to this approach, individuals with occlusal discrepancies or with discrepancies of the orofacial region would be likely to develop bruxism.
But, today, these factors’ role in the development of sleep bruxism is much smaller. Instead, experts put a lot more attention to pathophysiological factors such as disturbances in the nervous system, stress, or type of personality.
Nonetheless, the definitive causes of bruxism are still unknown. However, studies conducted on this topic have shown that there are certain risk factors that increase the risk of bruxism.
People At Risk From Sleep Bruxism
Bruxism is the third most frequent parasomnia in the general population. Different reports claim that from 8 to 31 percent of population have a tooth grinding problem at some stage in their life. These studies have also revealed the most common factors that were shown in individuals having bruxism, such as:
- Aggressive or Hyperactive personalities
- Sleep talking
- REM behavior disorder
- Obstructive sleep apnea
As you can see, different factors influence an individual’s chance of having bruxism. Nonetheless, research has found that 70 percent of teeth grinding cases are related to stress and anxiety. It might be more likely that your psychological state can lead to bruxism than anything else. For instance, people often use bruxism as a coping strategy, just like people that use biting nails or lips for the same purpose.
Consequences Of Bruxism
But is bruxism dangerous? Are there any consequences of untreated tooth grinding? Well, apart from the expected wearing off of teeth, is there anything else you can expect?
Like with any other disorder, there are also risks of not treating bruxism. However, based on when you discover it and for how long has teeth grinding been occurring, you could experience different types of effects caused by bruxism. Therefore, we will divide these effects into short-term and long-term.
Short-term consequences of bruxism usually end up in soreness or pain. You might feel that your jaw muscles are sore, or that your jaw or face is painful. Another instant effect of grinding is also feeling tired due to interrupted sleep.
On the other hand, the long-term effects are way more preoccupying. Untreated, longlasting bruxism can lead to dental problems such as flattened, chipped or loose teeth. Your tooth enamel, the strongest substance found in your body, is slowly wearing off with time due to the clenching and grinding. When the enamel wears off, deeper layers of teeth are exposed which makes them more sensitive and can potentially lead to other dental disorders. Although most cases of flattened or chipped teeth can be fixed at the dentist’s, healthy teeth might become destroyed and lose their strength due to high pressure on the enamel. Also, dental procedures are known to be quite costly, so bruxism should be treated as soon as it’s diagnosed.
But there are more long term consequences people suffering from bruxism can experience. Some people’s teeth grinding comes to such a grade that the jaw might start to click every time a person opens its mouth. This condition is also known as lockjaw and can cause pain and discomfort whenever the person tries to open their mouth.
In severe cases, bruxism can cause TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction which causes pain the jaw joint. The continuous habit of clenching teeth at night will also worsen this disorder with time and make the pain much harder to handle.
How Can You Treat Bruxism?
If you’re sure that you do have bruxism, you probably might be wondering “How do I stop bruxism? Can bruxism go away?“.
There is no cure or general therapy accepted in the medical community. Luckily, there are different things you can do in order to reduce your nighttime teeth clenching habit. If your bruxism is caused by temporary stress, it will most likely disappear after the stressful period is gone.
You should know that mild bruxism might not need therapy. So if you just had a stressful situation that made you feel tense, your jaw muscles are maybe just trying to get rid of that negative energy that you accumulated. However, if you have some of the signs we’ve mentioned above for a while now, then you should definitely react as soon as possible because your teeth are at stake here.
So here are things you can do in order to reduce bruxism and its effects on your teeth and health. Start by doing the first ones, and if the situation doesn’t improve, try the latter ones.
The first thing you should work on is to reduce stress in your life. Try meditating, or practicing yoga in order to achieve a more peaceful state of mind. Breathing exercises can also help a lot with reducing stress.
Spending more time in nature is also known to eliminate stress. Find what helps you relax most and stick to it.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Since bruxism is related to the body’s inability to relax completely during sleep, make sure you go to your bed as relaxed as possible. Turn off any electronic devices that might disrupt your sleep, drink a calming tea and make your sleeping environment as pleasant as possible.
Also, make sure that you’re going to bed and are waking up at the same hour so your body can have a healthy, sleeping pattern.
If none of the first two work, you would probably have to eliminate or reduce some of the factors that are influencing your sleep and might be causing your teeth grinding.
Try reducing tobacco, caffeine and alcohol use and start exercising instead. Not only your bruxism might disappear, but you might feel the overall health benefits of your new lifestyle modification.
Dental guards are one the most secure solution of reducing bruxism effects on teeth. These dental guards protect your teeth from grinding and clenching. In most cases, they are the only solution that works.
However, some researches suggest that dental guards can make OSA worse. So if you’re suffering from it, you might want to look for other options.
CPAP Machines are used in order to treat sleep apnea. So, as you can probably imagine, CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure machine might be the best option for you if you have obstructive sleep apnea-related teeth grinding.
You will breathe more easily, and you can even ask your dentist to create an oral appliance for you that you could use alongside the machine. This way you could combat OSA and bruxism at once.