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Teeth Clenching, Grinding and Bruxism explained.

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

There is a lot of confusion going on about the differences between the teeth/jaw habits that many people experience known as clenching, grinding and bruxism. Our blog will clarify what these terms actually mean and explain how they differ, so we can help you find the most effective solutions.

The symptoms can range from a mild disturbance to pain so severe that patients cannot sleep or work. It can effect children and adults, but the main age range is 25-45.

Two main types:

Daytime or awake bruxism usually involves just a clenching of the jaw in response to a stimuli. Something we all do at times, clenching happens when you clamp down your jaws, with no other movement. If this becomes a frequent habit, you will tend to experience an aching jaw i.e. the bones and muscles are put under strain, resulting in a condition known as temporomandibular joint problems or TMJ. Additionally, severe clenching can cause headaches and earache.

Asleep bruxism

This occurs when one is asleep (you have no conscious control over it), and often involves jaw clenching combined with a grinding of the teeth and contraction of the jaw muscles. Usually there is an associated noise as the teeth move over each other. This not only puts strain on the jaws as with clenching, but over time the movement creates distinct wear-marks on your teeth. Grinding bruxism is considered by many scientists to be part of the ‘sleep disturbance’ family, related to the central nervous system and issues with neurotransmitters.

If you have this condition, you’ll often wake up with a sore jaw, which will tend to ease during the day. Should you have a partner, you’ll confirm the problem soon enough because the sound of grinding teeth can be so loud that it wakes them up at night .Often the actual damage cannot be seen except during a dental examination, so if you’re experiencing ongoing jaw pain you should book in for a check-up – this will allow us to nip the problem in the bud before any major damage occurs.

What are the causes?

Bruxism has a multitude of causes and it can be difficult to highlight one as the main cause, however a few of the causes discussed are:

Incorrect tooth alignment. If your teeth are not in the correct position, then it can lead to the teeth meeting in a different position. This leads to the muscles attached to the jaw being stretched in a way they are not comfortable, which, in turn, leads to muscular pains such as head and neck ache. The teeth receive a message from the brain, indicating the discrepancy in the bite and try to grind their way to a more comfortable position. This, in turn, leads to more symptoms, and so in turn leads to more pain. The best way to correct this is to move the teeth back into a correct position, from something as simple as a minor filing of the tops of the teeth ( occlusal equilibration) to orthodontics ( braces). The orthodontic process is usually reserved for extreme cases.

Stress. Just like mouth ulcers, cold sores and stomach ulcers all increase propensity with onset of stress. So does the occurrence of bruxism, as a result the best way to treat this cause would be to find ways to de-stress. The largest cause of bruxism is stress related. Exercise and life changes to encourage a more relaxed environment would help, though not always possible!

  1. Other conditions. There is a strong link to Obstructive Sleep Apnea and patients who suffer from this also get episodes of bruxism in the night.

  2. Stimulants. Regular users of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and caffeine (more than 6 cups a day). All of these stimuli can cause disturbed sleep which can result in increased occurrence of bruxism.

What are the dental symptoms of stress?

They are wide ranging but main ones are:

  • Soreness from muscles of the head and neck

  • More sensitive teeth, if they begin to wear down

  • Clicking or popping noises from the jaw joint

  • Lock jaw when jaw is opened wide

  • Headaches, neck aches and shoulder pains

  • Limited opening of the jaw

  • Earaches

How to treat bruxism

The good news is there are a number of effective treatments to tackle these issues:

  • Night Guard – this is a type of transparent fitted plate that slots comfortably around your teeth. Different materials can be used for your teeth grinding guard, such as acrylic or soft rubber, and you could opt for a partial (NTI type), Lucia Jig or full dental guard.

  • Muscle Relaxants – these, including Botulinum toxin injections (also known as Botox), reduce the activity of the muscles involved in bruxism. Be aware that some medications can cause bruxism, so be sure to discuss your prescriptions with your doctor and dentist.

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Therapies – meditation, psychotherapy and yoga have been shown to help people tackle their bruxism. Apps like Headspace can help. Additionally, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake (especially before bed) can also be helpful.

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