Understanding Teeth Grinding: Everything You Should Know About Bruxism 

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism, simply defined as grinding and clenching of the teeth, is thought to affect up to 30% of people in some way. However, according to The Bruxism Association, only about 8-10 percent of people will experience pain and other problems due to habitual teeth grinding. Overall, people with bruxism may grind and clench their teeth while they are awake, or during sleep, and the severity of bruxism can vary greatly from person to person. 

According to Fab Dental, Most people with bruxism may not ever realize they have it, because the grinding is infrequent and mild enough to go unnoticed. However, those with more severe bruxism may experience great pain, discomfort, and dental problems due to the excessive grinding. 

Symptoms of Bruxism

  • Teeth that are cracked, chipped, or appear to loosen over time
  • Recurring or frequent headaches, especially near the temples
  • Hyper-sensitive teeth due to worn tooth enamel
  • Sore facial muscles 
  • Sore jaw muscles 
  • Earaches 
  • Injury to the insides of the cheek
  • TMJ dysfunction, wherein one experiences pain, discomfort, popping, clicking, or “freezing” at the temporomandibular joints located on either side of the jaw 

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, or otherwise suspect you may be grinding your teeth unconsciously, continue reading to learn more about what causes bruxism, as well as tips to manage and prevent bruxism. 

Causes of Bruxism

Diagnosing bruxism is generally easier than identifying its exact cause. In fact, there are many possible causes of tooth grinding, only some of which are serious medical conditions. If you think you have bruxism, it’s best to consult a dentist and/or physician so that they can help you rule out more serious causes. In the meantime, below is a list and brief explanation of the various possible causes of bruxism. 

Stress and anxiety

Many studies have indicated a relationship between stress and bruxism. While the exact nature of the correlation is unclear, scientists can reasonably speculate that stress and anxiety may lead to habitual teeth-grinding because muscles in the body tend to tense up under stress, when the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol, is released. 

Other sleep disorders 

Research has shown a relationship between other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, and bruxism. However, scientists have not yet been able to discern whether this relationship is causal, or merely correlative. 

Also read: The Potential Health Risks of Leaving Misaligned Teeth Untreated

Hyperactivity disorders such as ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as other mental health hyperactivity disorders, are considered risk factors for bruxism, meaning that individuals with hyperactivity disorders are at a greater risk of developing bruxism. Doctors speculate that this is due to the increased stress, or even as a side effect of ADHD medication.

Genetics 

Studies have concluded that there is a tendency for bruxism to run in families, so if you think you have bruxism, you might want to talk to your relatives so that you can give your doctor family history information.

Substance side effects 

As mentioned briefly above, certain medications and substances can potentially cause bruxism as a side effect. There is a long list of medications that are suspected to cause bruxism, and you can read more about this research at the National Library of Medicine website. If you have bruxism and are taking medication, smoking, or drinking alcohol on a regular basis, make sure you tell your doctor so that you can discuss any potential causes. 

GERD

Research on the relationship between gastroesophageal reflux disorder and bruxism is still limited, but GERD is at this point considered a risk factor for bruxism. 

Parkinson’s Disease 

Individuals with PD do seem to be at a greater risk for developing bruxism, according to recent research. Researchers believe this is due to the fact that PD affects the ability to control musculoskeletal movements, such as movements of the facial and jaw muscles. PD also affects sleep quality, which may also be tied to bruxism. 

Tips for Managing and Preventing Bruxism

Of course, whenever you experience any kind of medical problem, you should consult your primary care physician or an appropriate specialist before jumping to conclusions about your symptoms after conducting rudimentary internet research. For bruxism specifically, your doctor may suggest any of the following:

  • Stress and tension management, such as psychotherapy and relaxation training, especially for awake bruxism
  • Wearing a mouth guard at night to prevent damage to the teeth due to grinding and clenching
  • An adjustment of current medications (if possible) if they believe the bruxism is a side effect 
  • Prescribing medications to treat the bruxism, such as sedatives and muscle relaxers, especially in severe cases of asleep bruxism
  • A deeper investigation into other potential underlying causes, such as genetics, Parkinson’s Disease, sleep disorders, GERD, or mental health disorders.