Bruxism, or gnashing and grinding of the teeth, is one of the most prevalent oral health concerns today affecting an estimated 20% of the population. It can occur both during waking hours, usually subconsciously, and while sleeping. At least 80% of bruxers deny the condition or are completely unaware of the occurrence. Another common disorder that affects the teeth and jaws is Clenching. It is often referred to as the “silent disease” due to absence of tooth wear and noises that grinding often produces. Sleep bruxism and clenching are actually classified as sleep disorders, not dental disorders, and research is currently underway to determine if there is a link with sleep apnea.These conditions, when present on a regular basis, can cause considerable irritation and damage to teeth, jaw muscles, and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Symptoms can include tension and migraine headaches, muscle soreness and spasms, tooth sensitivity which can also mimic a toothache, fatigue, acute jaw pain, ear pain, significant tooth wear and cracking, and painful TMJs when opening and closing, often with a pop or click. In addition, sleep disturbance often occurs leaving individuals frequently feeling tired and sleepy. If the conditions are left untreated temporomandibular joint disease (TMD), myositis or muscle inflammation, and or irreversible tooth damage requiring extensive reconstruction can ensue.
Although sleep bruxism and clenching are referred to as sleep disorders, underlying conditions may be present that contribute. These can include stressful life situations, an abnormal bite, and malaligned or missing teeth. Dentists are, by far, the best practitioners to diagnose and treat sleep bruxism and clenching. A diagnosis can be made based on the presence of a variety of signs such as excessive tooth wear and cracking, generalized tooth sensitivity, episodic or continuous soreness of the chewing muscles, painful jaw joints and chronic headaches. In addition, sleep studies can often effectively reveal these conditions.
Treatment often consists of the fabrication of a bruxism appliance, also known as a “nightguard” or “occlusal splint”, which can reduce and or eliminate further tooth wear, muscle tension and inflammation, TMJ stress and compression, and headaches. While these appliances may not cure bruxism they prevent further damage. Stress reduction techniques, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol, and psychosocial therapy are helpful ways to reduce bruxism and clenching.
If you feel that you may be clenching or bruxing please report this to your dentist or dental hygienist as soon as possible.