Bruxism is the process of grinding the teeth together while sleeping and can lead to many serious dental problems. Grinding can cause teeth to become painful or loose. Patients can literally grind away parts of their teeth, leaving them with worn surfaces or fractured enamel.
People who have otherwise healthy teeth and gums can clench so often and so hard that over time their teeth become sensitive and they experience jaw pain and headaches. Night guard appliances will eliminate or greatly reduce clenching or grinding. Even in those who still clinch, the damage being done to the teeth will stop.
Mouth guards and mouth splints
If you grind your teeth while you’re asleep, it may help to wear a mouth guard or mouth splint at night.
Mouth guards and splints even out the pressure across your jaw and create a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth to protect them from further damage. They can also reduce any grinding noises you make at night.
Mouth guards are similar to those used in sports such as boxing or rugby. They’re rubber or plastic and can be made by your dentist to fit your mouth. You can also buy a mouth guard from your local pharmacist, but it’s unlikely to fit as well as a custom-made one.
A mouth splint is made from harder plastic and fits precisely over your upper or lower teeth. They’re no more effective than mouth guards in reducing the symptoms of teeth grinding. However, they’re more expensive as they last for several years, whereas mouth guards usually only last for less than a year.
Treating stress and anxiety
If the underlying cause of your teeth grinding is stress or anxiety, psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), may help.
If your teeth grinding is stress-related, it’s important to try to relax and get a good night’s sleep. There are a number of things you can try to help you wind down before you go to bed, including:
– Deep breathing
– Having a bath
– Listening to music
– Read more about how to get a good night’s sleep.
Breaking the habit
Habit-reversal techniques are designed to break your teeth grinding habit. However, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that using habit-reversal techniques will cure teeth grinding.
If you’re awake when you grind your teeth you might find it useful to record how often you grind your teeth each day. You can then work out when you’re more likely to do it and why – for example, when you’re concentrating or stressed.
If you’re aware of your habit it will be easier to break. To break the habit, you could train yourself to relax your jaw when you feel yourself grinding or clenching. For example, you could open your jaw slightly or gently place your tongue between your upper and lower teeth.
Habit-reversal techniques may be used by a specially trained therapist, or you can try them yourself using a computer programs or self-help book. Your GP will be able to advise you.
Treating and preventing dental problems
You should have regular dental check-ups so that any problems caused by your teeth grinding are treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
Dental problems, such as misaligned, cracked, crooked or missing teeth, can usually be treated with reconstructive dental treatments, such as false teeth, overlays and crowns.
These treatments can sometimes reshape the chewing surface of your teeth and stop you grinding.
Medication isn’t usually used to treat teeth grinding. But non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help relieve any pain or swelling around your jaw caused by grinding.
In some cases, your GP may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before you go to bed to help relieve your symptoms.
If your teeth grinding is a side effect of taking antidepressant medication, your GP may suggest changing your medication. Never stop taking medication that’s been prescribed for you without consulting your GP first.
Self-help for teeth grinding
To help prevent teeth grinding:
– Cut back on alcohol because it can make teeth grinding while you’re asleep worse
– Give up smoking
– Avoid using recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine