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Breaking Down Bruxism: What It Is, Treatments, and Cures

Female patient suffering from bruxism, grinding her teeth while sleeping

Is the enamel of your teeth mysteriously appearing cracked, chipped, flattened, or uneven? Is this appearance change occurring without you even realizing why? Are your gums receding as well? Does your entire mouth, or worse, jaw, feel sore, tender, numb, and pained? Clenched, perhaps? If so, you may be suffering from bruxism.

Learn more about this oral health condition, why you shouldn’t take the damage it deals lightly, and what you can do about it.

What Is Bruxism?

Bruxism refers to the state of excessively grinding or clenching down your teeth. This often occurs unconsciously while you’re asleep, which makes quantifying the exact number of bruxism sufferers difficult, but clinical estimates (per Journal of Orofacial Pain) say that as much as 8-31% of the general population could suffer from it.

It’s normal to clench every once in a while, particularly as a reaction to stress, but if you notice that visible damage to your gums and teeth, and chronic pain around your mouth or jaw, then that’s a sign you should consult an orthodontist or dentist ASAP. 

This clenching can apply up to 250 pounds of force to your teeth. That’s a whopping 50 pounds greater than the average adult male body weight (per CDC), and obviously capable of doing serious damage to your teeth, and worse. 

When this clenching gets bad enough, it can put strain on the jaw, being a contributing factor to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). When that jaw strain gets bad enough, it can be a contributing factor to wear and strain on the surrounding nerves and muscles, causing discomfort in the face, neck, shoulders, and in serious cases, arms and legs.

How Does Bruxism Affect Your Life?

The physical damage that severe bruxism does to the mouth is not reversible — your teeth enamel and gums will not grow back. This means that the wear of bruxism will lead to heightened pain, soreness, and sensitivity in both the more strain is afflicted. Furthermore, as stated above, this pain can lead to a cascading series of greater pains.

TMD can limit mouth mobility; this exacerbates the chewing difficulty, and only serves to worsen the muscle strain of bruxism. Furthermore, the physical bruxism and TMD strain is often exacerbated by psychological strains, as broad clinical consensus has associated it with:

  • Mental health issues (particularly stress and anxiety)
  • Night terrors (often driven by mental health disorders)
  • Drug abuse (particularly stimulants that overact the bite muscles)
  • Sleep apnea (clenching constricts the airways)

If you suspect that your bruxism is related to these underlying issues, we strongly recommend addressing them with the help of an experienced behavioral health counselor. Therapy can help you lessen the anxieties and/or taper off any addictions that could be worsening bruxism.

This straining upon straining upon straining upon straining doesn’t just put a grind down on your teeth; it can also put a serious grind down on your quality of life.

How to Treat Bruxism

Unfortunately, the pre-existing damage of bruxism can seldom be undone, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sit by and let it deal more damage. Wearing an occlusal guard at night (or during the day if necessary) will offer relief. 

Like a bike helmet for your head, an occlusal guard will create a protective barrier for your teeth, shielding them from trauma and dispersing blunt force. Additionally, they can stabilize or “deprogram” the muscle movements that lead to bruxism. You can order these guards over the counter, but for the best results, we advise obtaining them through a licensed dentist or orthodontist.

An experienced oral health professional has the resources to create the ideal custom fit for your guard and determine the best type of occlusal guard for your diagnosis. To evaluate the severity of your bruxism, the oral healthcare professional may:

  • Feel for tenderness around your jaw or mouth muscles
  • Examine for enamel damage or malocclusions
  • Observe the mouth structure with imaging (x-rays)

Once it is determined that bruxism and/or TMD issues are present, the treating dentist or orthodontist will typically then determine the best occlusal guard by testing the bite and testing your personal fit. Certain occlusal guards work better for treating certain discomforts or levels of discomfort than others. Besides appliance wear, it may be recommended that you seek these additional treatments:

  • Pain, muscle relaxant, or psychiatric medications (if severe enough)
  • Physical stretching exercises to relax the mouth muscles
  • Botox injections
  • Changing drug and dietary habits
  • Orthognathic surgery (to correct jaw & bite alignment, if necessary)

Can Bruxism Be Cured?

In children, mild bruxism can typically dissipate on its own as they grow older, and most adults don’t grind or clench frequently enough to demand treatment, but there’s no one-size-fits-all miracle cure for bruxism. Still, even if you are one of those more severe cases, those remedies can work wonders to relieve symptoms and reduce severity.

An orthodontist or dentist wouldn’t be able to handle the above remedies. It would be great if there was a one-stop shop to meet every single one of those potential needs, but just as bruxism creates multifaceted issues, it may need to be met with multifaceted solutions. Those multifaceted solutions may require exercises, pharmaceuticals, therapy sessions, radical lifestyle changes, and surgical procedures if severe enough.

Multiple people across multiple health specializations may factor into your treatment, but at the end of the day, the most important person in treating your bruxism is you. These professionals will offer you highly effective tools, but it comes down to you to be proactive and put those tools to effective use.