The Daily Grind

In May 2016, Polish, Stuff by Alexandra DrosuLeave a Comment

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One in three people grind or clench their teeth (also known as bruxism). In fact, many people do it without realizing it but left unchecked the condition can impact your teeth dramatically. We spoke with Dr. Anna Abernethy, DDS, of Renaissance Dental Center to find out the common causes and how you can get help.

Can you tell us a little bit more about bruxism?

Bruxism is an unconscious, involuntary clenching, grinding or tapping of teeth. Both forms of bruxism have the same causes, but because they involve different activity, the consequences can be slightly different. Both clenching and grinding involve forceful contact between the upper and lower teeth. Both involve muscles of the jaws, which keep teeth clenched or moving, as in grinding. While grinding always involves clenching, clenching does not always involve grinding. People who grind their teeth move them repeatedly back and fourth or sideways, making an unpleasant sound that often wakes up sleeping partners. Clenching, on the other hand, does not include moving the jaws and teeth, just very forceful, silent pressure.

What are some of the causes of bruxism?

Bruxism can have many causes, but it is believed that it’s most commonly caused by stress or some sort of dental problem, such as teeth misalignment. Bruxism has also been shown to be a complication of another condition. A handful of medications, such as certain anti-anxiety pills, for instance, have side effects that include jaw clenching and tapping of teeth.

Teeth grinding occurs frequently during sleep, and there are a number of sleep conditions tied to this behavior, including sleep apnea. Apnea is a chronic disorder in which sleep is disrupted by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths. The pauses can last more than a minute, and they’re usually followed by a choking sound. The condition is under-diagnosed, because many people don’t realize they have the problem. Studies have found a high instance of bruxism among those with sleep apnea.

What happens if you don’t get help?

Because teeth clenching puts huge pressure on the muscles and other parts of the jaws, it can cause pain in the jaws, otherwise known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Teeth grinding can cause jaw problems, earaches and headaches, but in addition, it can wear down teeth, cause teeth to get loose, or make teeth enamel chip or crack. If bruxism sounds serious, consider this: the masseter, the cheek muscle that helps us chew, is one of the strongest muscles in the entire body. Dental researchers say it can exert up to 600 pounds of force per square inch on the molars in the rear of our mouths.

What are some dental solutions to the problem?

Treatments for teeth grinding symptoms include: using a warm, wet washcloth on the jaw; massaging jaw muscles, the neck and face to relieve tension on trigger points; visiting a chiropractor that specializes in TMJ therapy; and using muscle relaxers to relax the jaw.

Treatments for bruxism designed to reduce symptoms or get rid of teeth grinding altogether include: reducing stress; drinking more water; getting more sleep; avoiding gum and chewy foods; or a custom fit mouth guard or sleep appliance fabricated by your dentist.

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