Bruxism is the dental lingo that we use for the grinders and teeth clenchers of the world. You may or not be aware that you grind your teeth because you are; a) sleeping while you're doing it, or b) generally oblivious because you're stressed out and focusing on what's stressing you out.
Quite often it's the people around you who may notice (be irritated) first. Co-workers, or your spouse, spot those tell-tale sounds of grinding while you sit at your desk (diurnal bruxism), or in between bouts of snoring (nocturnal bruxism). Bruxism is actually one of the most common sleep disorders (right after getting hit in the face with a pillow).
Show Me A Sign
Quite often a little clenching and grinding during life's ebb and flow of stress resolves itself and has no lasting effects that require dental intervention. The problem arises when teeth become damaged, you start to develop jaw problems, and/or severe and recurring headaches. Visible and somatic signs to be on the lookout for include:
- You notice your teeth are starting to change shape - you are literally wearing down and chipping the edges and cusps, which may start to expose the deeper layers, which in turn means you will start to feel some 'zingers' (not dental lingo) if you eat ice-cream, bite down or suck air over your teeth.
- You notice an increase in headaches - particularly in the morning and particularly pesky tension-type headaches.
- You notice jaw pain or soreness - your jaw feels like it might feel after chewing on the same piece of gum for 9 hours (which, by the way, can also trigger ear aches).
- You notice indentations on your tongue or a single horizontal ridge on the inside of your cheeks - right around the level that your teeth come together.
Born To Be A Bruxer?
There's no definitive answer, but most doctors agree that it's a combination of physical, psychological and environmental factors. If the way your upper and lower jaws come together (occlusion) is abnormal, then it is inevitable that you will have problems. Complications resulting from a traumatic brain injury, Huntington's and Parkinson's disease are also found to be causal.
Certain psychiatric medications can cause bruxing as a (usually uncommon) side effect. In children, it can frequently be seen as a response to the pain they experience while teething or with ear aches. The old saying, "bite your tongue" is not always a good thing, sometimes suppressing all of that pent up anger and frustration can wreak havoc on your teeth which can, in turn, lead into additional anxiety, stress and tension.
You can tell how old a tree is by looking at how many rings it has; open your mouth and we might be able to see how much stress you are carrying around! Substance use, specifically stimulants, can increase the tendency towards bruxing - another reason to moderate or cease using tobacco, caffeine, methamphetamines and ecstasy. Finally, bruxism is actually more common in children than adults, but tends to dissipate by adolescence.
What's a Grinder To Do?
Fortunately, there are some simple lifestyle changes that can be made to help control many of these variables. One of the best investments you can make is actually preventive, which is always less traumatic on your appointment as well as your checking account. Sometimes an ounce of prevention really is a worth a pound of cure.
A customized, occlusal device, like a bite splint, will not only help to protect your teeth from breaking, but can also alleviate muscle soreness and decrease headaches. Unfortunately, it has not yet been found to have any therapeutic impact on moderating road rage.