Do you wake with a sore jaw or headache? Are your teeth worn down, feel loose, chipped or even broken? If so, you might have bruxism.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is characterized by an unconscious act of grinding or clenching one’s teeth tightly together. It is classified by two main types: awake bruxism (occurring during wakefulness) and sleep bruxism (occurring during sleep). The two types are distinctly separate in that the damage to teeth caused by sleep bruxism is usually much more severe.

Bruxism will cause damage to tooth enamel over time and even cause a misaligned bite, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) or even tooth loss.

Causes of Bruxism

Bruxism is considered a habit by some. It can also be due to the body’s reaction when the teeth do not line up properly. Stress and anxiety can trigger bruxism, as well. Another cause of bruxism is sleep apnea, a sleep disorder.

Symptoms of Bruxism

  • Contractions of the muscles of the jaw
  • Grinding noises at night, which may disturb a partner
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Tight or painful jaw muscles, which make it uncomfortable to open your mouth wide, especially in the morning.
  • Painful jaw joint
  • Damaged or worn teeth, broken dental fillings and injured gums
  • Occasional swelling on the side of your lower jaw caused by clenching

Expected Duration of Bruxism

Most children stop this habit on their own by age 13. However, when it comes to teenagers and adults, there is no common answer. Bruxism can last for years when it is related to long-term stress. If bruxism is caused by a dental issue, it should stop when the teeth are repaired and realigned.

Bruxism Treatment

Treatment of bruxism varies based on the cause:

Stress:  If bruxism is stress-related, professional counselling, psychotherapy or biofeedback exercises may help you to relax. You may be prescribed medication such as diazepam (Valium) until the issue is resolved.

Dental problems:  If bruxism is related to tooth issues, tooth alignment will be checked by your dentist. Your dentist may need to use onlays or dental crowns to reshape the biting surfaces of your teeth. The dentist also may make a mouthguard or bite splint that fits your mouth and teeth. This will help keep teeth separated and prevent further damage to the teeth. It can also help your teeth and muscles to realign.

Although tooth grinding and clenching may not seem serious, it has the potential to cause long-term damage and tooth loss over time, so be sure to talk to your dentist about how you can eliminate this habit.

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