We all have stress-filled days to some extent. For some, the stress begins the moment their feet hit the floor. For others, they are fine until they start the morning commute with horrific traffic jams and horns honking the entire time. There are many high-level executives, who, though they enjoy a powerful position in a company, are subject to stress the entire work day, and after hours as well.
Unfortunately, grinding or clenching our teeth, also known as “bruxism”, is a common reaction to stress and affects an estimated 30 to 40 million people in the United States. Though teeth grinding or clenching does occur during waking hours, more often than not, it occurs at night. Remarkably, it is often an inherited trait from a parent, but, it is more likely associated with stress in one’s daily life.
Bruxism may affect your sleep as well as that of your partner. Many people are unaware of their teeth grinding, until their partner hears the grinding noise and tells them about it. Often it is the dentist who will identify the “bruxer” (the common name for a person who grinds their teeth), by discovering tooth damage such as enamel loss, flat chewing surfaces, loose teeth, fractures in teeth, broken fillings, or there will be complaints of tooth sensitivity. Often a dentist will detect signs of jaw damage caused by the grinding. This is because bruxism does more than just affect our sleep behavior, it also causes pressure on teeth and jaw muscles, especially the jaw joint, which in turn causes very real pain, like TMJ syndrome. Unbelievably, five to ten percent of all bruxers clench or grind their teeth so forcefully that teeth are damaged and jaw problems, such as TMJ disorder, develop. Let’s discuss TMJ disorder first.
What is Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome?
You have probably heard of someone afflicted with TMJ syndrome – maybe yourself? It is a painful condition of the temporomandibular joint which is a joint that connects your jaw to your skull. If the joint should become injured or damaged, it can lead to a disorder called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.
Other causes of TMJ syndrome may include injury to the teeth or jaw, misalignment of the teeth or jaw, poor posture, stress, arthritis, gum chewing, and most notably, bruxism. Signs of TMJ syndrome include painful headaches and/or pain in the temple area, ear issues like popping sounds with ear pain, stiff or sore jaw muscles or locking of the jaw. When opening and closing the mouth very wide, such as when your dentist says “open wide and say ahh”, or, when biting an apple or a very tall sandwich, the jaw will make a discernible clicking noise. This clicking noise nearly always signifies to your dentist that there is a TMJ issue.
Main factor in teeth grinding
Bruxism may develop at any age – from the very young to the elderly. While stress, anxiety and/or anger are the most-common triggers for jaw clenching and teeth grinding in adults, especially highly competitive “Type A” personalities, there are other factors that can contribute to bruxism. Some sleep disorders can aggravate the condition, as can alcohol consumption and some medications. Dental issues, like improper alignment of upper and lower teeth, or, even new dental work that has changed tooth or jaw positions, can also lead to clenching and grinding. As mentioned earlier, children are not exempt from bruxism and may also be bruxers as a result of stress, but also the bruxism can stem from allergies, an ear infection, and even the common cold may be to blame.
How to combat teeth grinding
If you grind or clench your teeth at night, it would behoove you to schedule an appointment with a dental office, where a dentist will evaluate what can be done sooner, rather than later, to thwart any damage to your teeth and/or jaw. Most likely your dental practitioner will discuss viable options such as wearing a custom-made plastic mouth guard while sleeping to prevent damage and reduce pressure on teeth and surrounding structures or various relaxation techniques. South Orange dentists are experts at treating a variety of dental conditions and can help you greatly improve your oral health.
As to wearing a mouth guard, the guard fits between your upper and lower teeth and is tailored to your bite. An impression is taken of your bite and that mold will be used to design a guard that fits perfectly. The procedure is painless, although it might take some getting used to, but you are preserving your teeth. Some people use their mouth guard while driving if they tend to clench their teeth in their commute. You are encouraged to get fitted professionally for the mouth guard since an over-the-counter device is not specifically tailored to your needs, and will often be ill-fitting, thus leaving unprotected gaps in your mouth which will not adequately protect your teeth and jaw from further damage.
Other methods to help prevent bruxism are biofeedback and relaxation techniques. By undergoing meditation, controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, you can learn to reduce your stress level. Biofeedback techniques can help to teach a person to use less force when they bite down, which, over time, becomes an unconscious habit.
If these suggested treatments do not seem right for you, you may wish to resort to warm compresses to help relax jaw muscles, especially just prior to going to sleep.
In the case of extremely tight jaw muscles, treatment may require muscle relaxants.
As a last resort, you might wish to participate in a sleep study for your bruxism in order to rule out an airway issue, since, as mentioned above, teeth grinding occurs primarily while sleeping. If a poor airway is determined to be a contributing factor, then treatment for the airway malady may be tried first to determine if the teeth grinding will cease.
Every issue of teeth grinding needs to be handled individually and uniquely. Various treatments like dietary changes, postural modifications, emotional therapy, medications, injections, tooth adjustments and dental work, orthodontics and/or surgery are all viable options. Schedule a consultation with a top dentist here in New Jersey first to help determine if your dental maladies can be simply corrected with a mouth guard.