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How to Know Whether You Grind Your Teeth

by Dr. Christiana Onisiforou – Prosthodontist

Have you ever woken up with a stiff or sore jaw? Do you have a dull, throbbing headache upon waking in the morning? If so, it may be time for you to visit your dentist. These could be signs that you’re grinding your teeth, a common condition known as bruxism. While it might seem like a harmless habit, teeth grinding can have serious implications for your dental health, if not addressed by your dentist. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore seven tell-tale signs that may indicate you’re grinding your teeth, often without even realizing it. Understanding these signs is crucial for early detection and prevention, helping you protect your teeth and overall oral health.

What is bruxism? 

Bruxism, commonly known as teeth grinding, is a condition in which you grind or clench your teeth. This can happen unconsciously while you are awake, or during sleep. In cases of clenching and grinding while asleep, this condition is considered a sleep-related movement disorder. It has been shown that people who have sleep bruxism are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring or sleep apnea.

Types of Bruxism:

Awake Bruxism: This usually involves the clenching of the jaw rather than grinding of the teeth. It’s often associated with emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, concentration, or coping strategies.

Sleep Bruxism: This typically involves more tooth grinding or clenching and is a more rhythmic activity. It is considered a sleep-related movement disorder.

How to tell if you grind your teeth

If you suspect you are suffering from bruxism, there are several signs to look out for:

  • Tight or sore jaw muscles
  • Flattened, chipped or cracked teeth
  • Headaches
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Dull, achy pain around your ears or temples
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, clicking noises when opening your mouth
  • Sleep problems

If you are noticing any of these signs or symptoms, the easiest way to confirm whether you are grinding your teeth is by visiting your dentist for an official diagnosis.

Causes of teeth grinding 

There are a variety of reasons why people grind their teeth. It is not entirely known what causes bruxism, but it is thought to be due to a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors. These can include stress and anxiety, an abnormal bite, aggressive or competitive personality types, missing or crooked teeth, other family members with bruxism, or medical disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Bruxism may also be a side effect of some medications, such as certain antidepressants.

Treating bruxism

Dentists treat bruxism through a variety of approaches aimed at reducing tooth damage, alleviating pain, and preventing further complications. The treatment plan often depends on the severity of the condition and its underlying causes. Here are some common treatments for bruxism:

  • Wearing a nightguard or bite splint: Dentists often prescribe custom-made nightguards or splints to be worn over the teeth, typically during sleep. These devices help to protect the teeth from grinding against each other, reducing wear and tear, and alleviating pressure on the jaw.
  • Dental Correction: In cases where bruxism is caused by misaligned teeth or an abnormal bite, corrective dental treatments like braces or reshaping of the biting surfaces of the teeth may be necessary.
  • Stress Management: Since stress is a significant contributor to bruxism, strategies for stress reduction, such as counseling, exercise, meditation, or other relaxation techniques, might be recommended.
  • Behavioral Therapies: Behavioral strategies, such as biofeedback or other cognitive behavioral therapies, can help individuals become more aware of their grinding and learn ways to stop the habit.
  • Medications: In some cases, short-term use of muscle relaxants or specific medications can be prescribed to relieve pain or muscle spasms associated with bruxism. In addition, if bruxism is related to anxiety or depression, appropriate medications for these conditions might be advised.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can be effective in reducing muscle pain and restoring normal function of the jaw muscles and joints.
  • Addressing Sleep Disorders: If bruxism is linked to sleep disorders like sleep apnea, treatment of the sleep disorder can often alleviate the grinding.

It is important to note that treatment for bruxism is highly individualized, and what works for one person might not be effective for another. Regular follow-up with the dentist is essential to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and make adjustments as needed.

The good news is that bruxism, or grinding your teeth, is a very treatable condition. If you suspect that you are grinding your teeth, visit your dentist as soon as possible to discuss your options for reducing or eliminating bruxism. The sooner you catch and treat this condition, the less pain and damage you will endure.

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