A Guide to Bruxism

There are two important issues about grinding your teeth that you should be aware of. First of all, it can cause your teeth real damage in the long term. In fact, in particularly extreme cases, it can cause damage to your teeth very quickly. The second issue about teeth grinding is that it can make life a misery – not for the grinder necessarily, but certainly for the poor person who is trying to sleep next to them.

Medical experts believe that around 20% of people grind their teeth while they sleep. The medical name for it is bruxism. The reason why bruxism causes so much interest amongst the medical community is because it cannot be cured. Also, no-one really knows quite why some of us do grind our teeth. Some evidence suggests it is genetic. Other evidence suggests that it could be related to stress or anxiety. But because we don’t really know what causes it, we don’t really know how to cure it.

So how do you know if you have a case of bruxism? Normally, the sufferer sleeps through it and it is usually the person next to them who notices it first. As you would imagine, sleeping next to someone who is grinding their teeth all night is very difficult! However, the sufferer themselves may begin to notice some side-effects of their bruxism. They may wake up in the morning with aching teeth or a sore jaw, for example.

Bruxism is unusual in that it is both a medical problem and a dental problem. Therefore, if you are grinding your teeth on a regular basis, your first step should be to visit your GP. They will diagnose your condition in more detail to try and discover the extent of the problem. Don’t worry, they won’t have to attach sleep monitors. Usually, the diagnosis will involve making assumptions based on how you answer a number of questions. For example, do you wake up in the morning with headaches? If so, how severe are they – are they disrupting your everyday life? Other aches and pains, such as earache or a clicking jaw, can also be tell-tale signs that you are grinding your teeth at night.

Based on your answers to these questions, your GP will usually be able to evaluate how serious the bruxism is. Mild cases of bruxism may not require any treatment, though your GP may encourage you to look at your lifestyle and diet to see if you can make any adjustments. It could be that you could look at ways to relieve some of the stress in your professional or personal life, which may help. Alternatively, it could be something like giving up smoking or drinking caffeine which makes the difference.

If your GP believes you have a chronic case of bruxism which is seriously affecting your health or your partner’s quality of life, there are a number of treatment options at their disposal. As already mentioned, bruxism cannot be cured, so the treatment is usually based around finding ways to manage and reduce it, so that it does not continue to affect your quality of life.

Treatment for bruxism normally combines two different strategies. There is the dental aspect, which could involve being fitted for a dental guard or splint which protects the teeth against the nightly wear and tear caused by bruxism. This will involve a visit to your dentist so that you can be fitted for a suitable product. Of course, this will not help to cure your condition; it will simply ensure that the damage to your teeth is minimised in the long term.

The second part of the treatment normally involves exploring a variety of techniques to remove stress and anxiety and to improve relaxation before bedtime. It could include massage, for example, or working with a dietician to understand what you are eating before you go to bed. Some sufferers claim that behavioural therapies can help, such as autosuggestion techniques or hypnosis.

Although there is a shortage of research into bruxism, there is some evidence to suggest that it primarily occurs in the lighter stages of sleep. Therefore, much of your treatment should be focused around ensuring that you are going to bed relaxed and ready to sleep, so that you enter a deep sleep as quickly as possible. In the same way that thinking about your evening diet can help, some sufferers have found that exercise can reduce their teeth grinding.