Bruxism: recognize it to correct it

Do you wake up in the morning with jaw pain or headaches? It may be due to bruxism.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is a functional disorder that causes teeth grinding or jaw clenching. It is an involuntary reflex that occurs outside of chewing or swallowing, when the teeth naturally touch. Although bruxism can occur during the day, it mostly happens during sleep. Teeth grinding can be silent or accompanied by noises.

Sleep bruxism is different from that observed during wakefulness, which is characterized by involuntary clenching of the teeth in response to certain stimuli without grinding. The latter form is more associated with a tic or a bad habit. Bruxism can occur in the absence of any known medical condition. However, it may be secondary to an oral or medical problem, or to the use of certain medications or drugs.

It is estimated that roughly 20% of children, 8% of adults and 3% of seniors grind there teeth each week. The problem is often detected by a sleep partner, who hears the grinding noises during the night.

How is bruxism recognized?

Bruxism can cause various signs and symptoms, such as:

  • abnormal wear of the teeth (very sharp, cracked or fractured sides)
  • broken fillings, crowns or dentures
  • increased volume of the jaw muscles (masseters)
  • pain or stiffness in the jaw, facial muscles or neck
  • difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • fatigue during the day
  • headaches
  • earaches
  • etc.

If you think you have bruxism, you can speak to your dentist or doctor, who can examine you and assess your situation.

What causes bruxism?

The exact causes of bruxism are unknown, but some theories have been put forward. Stress and anxiety during the day could be a contributing factor to teeth grinding. The same is true for the sleeping position: most bruxers sleep on their backs, which causes the jaw and tongue to fall back and reduces oxygen intake. Bruxism could also be due to excessive activation of breathing and heart rate triggered by the systems that maintain sleep regularity.

People who have bruxism should take stock of their lifestyle habits, as some of them may be predisposing factors. Here are some examples:

  • smoking
  • excessive intake of alcohol or caffeine
  • street drug use (cocaine, amphetamines, etc.)
  • poor sleep hygiene
  • hyperactivity

Since there seems to be a link between stress (or anxiety) and bruxism, any relaxation technique or method to reduce stress can help reduce symptoms.

Of course, people who clench their jaws or grind their teeth during the day can learn to break this nasty habit. The first step is to become aware of when they are doing it.


What are the treatment measures for bruxism?

Treatment of bruxism begins with identifying and eliminating the causes, when possible. There is no definitive treatment, but some preventive measures and medication can help.

Wearing a mouth appliance to stabilize the bite, such as a occlusal plate, can also reduce bruxism. This custom-made plate is an acrylic tray that covers the chewing surface of the teeth to prevent the upper and lower teeth from coming into contact. This prevents grinding noises and protects teeth from premature wear, while relieving jaw pain when it occurs. Your dentist can give you more information on this subject.

Le mode de vie

Various medications can be taken before bedtime to reduce muscle tension during periods of intense bruxism (e.g., benzodiazepines). Caution is necessary as some medications can be addictive in the long term. Pain relievers can also help if the person has jaw, head or ear pain. Additionally, prescription medications with anti-anxiety properties can be taken on a regular basis (e.g., antidepressants).


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Bruxism: recognize it to correct it

Do you wake up in the morning with a sore jaw and a headache? You might have spent part of the night grinding or clenching your teeth. This involuntary reflex is called bruxism and affects approximately 20% of children and 8% of adults. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms and treat this habit.
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