What to do when bruxism takes a hold

What to do when bruxism takes a hold

Your smile is much more than just an external sign of a friendly persona. A toothy grin can often show the first sign you may be suffering from bruxism.

In order to understand how to fix bruxism, however, it is first necessary to understand what it is.

Its name suggests it could be some dastardly medieval disease. But the truth is bruxism is the word used to describe when a patient suffers headaches and jaw pain as a result of grinding or clenching their teeth during sleep.

Most of us will experience teeth grinding at some point in our lives. It becomes a more complex issue when the teeth begin experiencing problems as a result.

The difficulty lies in the fact that each person’s experience of bruxism is different. While some will endure no side effects despite regular teeth grinding, others will suffer from a sore jaw, headaches and even misshapen teeth no matter what the frequency.

What to look for

In my experience people who are often surprisingly good with their oral health may come in reporting that their teeth, in particular their front teeth, appear to have gotten shorter over time. It’s not something they notice straight away but will often spot after a chance glance in the mirror.

As an oral health professional who regular treats this type of complaint, I would expect to see a lot of wear and tear on the teeth which typically results in the enamel being exposed.

Those who are suffering from bruxism tend to have lost most of the two millimetres or so of enamel thickness resulting in the underlying surface of the tooth (referred to as the dentine) being exposed. This is a softer layer and its exposure may cause sensitivity, though often not. It does, though, erode in food and mouth acids and cause craters in the tooth surface.

Another common sign of bruxism is when patients come in complaining of a muscular pain in their jaw—rather than the teeth, as may be expected. This is a sign that the jaw is contracting too hard. As the teeth get shorter, the mouth becomes more enclosed and the surrounding muscle gets tighter.

If left undiagnosed for a significant period of time this can take quite a bit of effort to loosen up.

Treatment options for bruxism

The simplest and most effective way to relieve or eliminate jaw pain is wear a protective appliance at night. The appliance works as a splint to separate the top and bottom teeth. It prevents the jaw muscles from contracting too hard.

Many people think it has the appearance of a mouthguard. But it’s a lot less supple and significantly harder than those used for sports such as hockey and rugby. Those who have had braces in earlier years say they’re more closely aligned to a retainer. The only difference is they are slightly thicker and much stronger.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to bruxism, there is no quick fix. These devices can take time for patients to get used to and it takes a significant period of time for the jaw muscles to relax having been working overtime for so many years.