Identifying Bruxism and Taking Steps to Protect Your Oral Health

Do you find yourself clenching your jaw during the day or waking up with headaches, a sore jaw, or tight muscles in your neck or face? If this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from bruxism. This is a condition in which someone unconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth. It can occur when you’re awake or when you’re asleep and can cause more than just temporary discomfort—it can have lasting impacts on your oral health. Since it’s an unconscious habit and often happens in your sleep, however, you may not even realize that you’re grinding or clenching your teeth. If you do, you simply may not realize how often you’re doing it or how it can affect you in the long run. Here’s a breakdown of the signs, symptoms, and causes of bruxism—as well as what your dentist can do to help.

What are the signs and symptoms of bruxism?

Bruxism has a wide range of signs and symptoms you can look out for. Teeth grinding together can be surprisingly loud, so your partner may even hear it at night if you’re suffering from sleep bruxism. Sometimes, the sound is loud enough to wake them up. Other symptoms you might notice yourself:

  • Tight or tired jaw muscles
  • Locked jaw
  • A jaw that clicks or pops when you open or close it
  • Dull headache, often centered at your temples
  • Soreness in your jaw, neck, or face
  • Pain that feels like an earache
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Teeth that appear worn down

What problems can bruxism lead to?

While clenching your teeth every once in a while likely doesn’t require treatment, more regular grinding or clenching of your teeth can cause larger oral health issues. The pressure put on your teeth can cause them to chip, crack, or even break—injuries that can easily land you a trip to the emergency dentist. It can also cause damage to any dental restorations you have on your teeth, such as porcelain veneers or dental crowns.

Even if your teeth don’t suffer immediate damage, your teeth will eventually wear down, thinning your enamel. This causes tooth sensitivity, makes your teeth more vulnerable to decay, and can even affect the appearance of your teeth by causing them to look shorter or flatter. You may need to get treatments like dental bonding or a dental crown to repair damage from clenching or grinding your teeth. Additionally, all the extra pressure that clenching and grinding your teeth puts on your jaw can also cause problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), sparking jaw pain, inflammation, and muscle pain.

What causes bruxism?

The most well-known and common causes of bruxism are emotions like high stress, anxiety, or anger. Personality can also play a role, as people who are more competitive, hyperactive, or aggressive tend to suffer from bruxism more frequently. It can also be linked to diagnoses like Parkinson’s disease, sleep disorders, ADHD, night terrors, and more. In rare cases, bruxism may be a side effect of a medication. Age is also a factor, as young children tend to suffer from it more often; the good news, though, is that most kids grow out of bruxism by the time they reach adulthood. There’s also a familial link involved in sleep bruxism.

How can I alleviate symptoms?

Thankfully, there are steps you can take at home to alleviate your symptoms. If anxiety or stress is contributing to or causing the problem, focusing on lowering your stress levels or learning stress management techniques can make a huge difference. Meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises, yoga, or counseling can all play a part in lowering your anxiety levels. If you clench or grind your teeth when you’re awake, try to notice and change the behavior. You can also make an effort not to stress your jaw by chewing a lot of gum or eating very chewy or crunchy food. Similarly, you can take over-the-counter pain medications, muscle relaxants, or prescription anxiety medication if you need to. If an existing medical diagnosis or medication is causing your bruxism, treating the problem or changing your medication can also resolve or lessen your symptoms.

How can my dentist help?

There are several ways that Dr. Barr and Dr. Diachenko can treat bruxism. If you’re clenching or grinding your teeth during the day, your dentist can create splints or mouth guards for you to wear. These oral devices won’t prevent you from clenching or grinding your teeth, but they do protect your teeth themselves from damage by keeping them separated. Similarly, night guards can protect your teeth from damage if you suffer from sleep bruxism. They’re designed for comfort, ensuring that you’ll be able to sleep comfortably while wearing your night guard. In some cases, surgery is used as a last resort to correct an issue in your jaw joint itself that may be causing your bruxism. Jaw surgery is complicated, however, so your dentist will want to try other methods before resorting to it.

Bruxism can cause a wide range of painful symptoms and can have a lasting impact on your oral health, but it’s usually relatively easy to treat. While you may be able to treat it at home, you should still schedule an appointment with your dentist if you notice symptoms of bruxism. They can tell you whether or not it’s really the cause of your discomfort, assess the severity of the issue, check your teeth for damage, and give you advice on your next steps. The good news is that a few small changes usually go a long way, relieving your symptoms and protecting your oral health for years to come.