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Do you often wake up with a dull headache or a sore jaw?  Do you sometimes find yourself clenching your teeth?  Until you experience pain or have a dental checkup, you may not realize that you have a condition called "bruxism," a habit of grinding or clenching the teeth.  Many people are unaware that they grind their teeth because they do it while they sleep.  Bruxism often occurs in the early part of the night and can disturb sleep patterns.  The clenching and grinding may be quite audible and can also disturb sleep partners.  Others make no sound while bruxing their teeth and do not realize they are doing it until the dentist discovers unusual wear spots on the teeth or tense and sore muscles.  Bruxism may be mild and occassional or aggressive and frequent.

People who grind or clench their teeth may experience:

  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Toothache
  • Sore facial muscles
  • Sore/Tense/Tender jaw joints
  • Worn tooth surfaces
  • Damaged dental restorations
  • Loose teeth

Besides causing general discomfort, bruxism can also cause damage to the temporomandibular joints--the joints on either side of the mouth that connect the lower jaw to the skull.  The pressure from clenching and grinding can cause cracks or fractures in the teeth.  As the tooth enamel is worn away, the underlying layer of dentin may be exposed.  This causes the tooth to become sensitive to hot, cold, biting and/or pressure changes.  Bruxism can develop at any age.  Pain or discomfort from colds, ear infections, allergies and other ailments may cause children to grind their teeth at night. 

Although the causes of bruxism are not fully understood, several factors may be involved. Examples of contributing factors may be:

  • Stressful situations
  • Problems in sleeping
  • An abnormal bite
  • Crooked or missing teeth

Regular dental checkups are important to detect signs and damage in the early stages.  Your dentist can diagnose and treat irregular wear on teeth and determine the source of facial pain that may result from bruxism. 

Based on your dentist's diagnosis, one or more treatments may be recommended.  Your dentist may suggest a nightguard that can be worn while sleeping.  Custom-made and equilibrated by the dentist to fit your teeth, the nightguard slips over the teeth in one jaw and prevents contact with the opposing teeth.  The nightguard relieves some or all of the pressure of grinding and clenching.  If muscles have become sore from clenching, applying a warm, wet washcloth to the side of the face may help relax them.  In some situations, your dentist may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.

An abnormal bite, one in which teeth to not fit together properly, may lead to grinding.  Treatment may involve reducing "high spots" on one or more of your teeth.  For severe cases, your dentist may suggest reshaping or reconstructing the biting surfaces with inlays or crowns.

Some patients who suffer from bruxism may be candidates for Botox therapy in the jaw muscles.  Botox can help by taking the over-worked muscles our of hyperfunction, resulting in a more rested and relaxed state.  To read more about Botox therapy for TMJ, scroll through the 'Procedures' tab above.   

Grinding is a common occurence for many people at some time or another.  If you routinely grind your teeth and/or experience facial muscle soreness, schedule your appointment for a consultation with our office today.