Bruxism is a term for grinding and clenching that abrades teeth and may cause facial pain. People who grind and clench unintentionally bite down to hard at inappropriate times, such as in their sleep. These people also tend to bite their fingernails and their cheeks. Many people are completely unaware that they have the habit.
What are the signs?
When a person has bruxism, the tips of the teeth look flat. Sometimes the teeth are worn down so much that the enamel is rubbed off and the inner layer of the tooth is exposed. Many times these teeth become sensitive. Bruxers may experience TMJ (jaw joint) pain which may lead to popping and clicking as well as headaches and neck pain. Tongue indentations are another sign of clenching. Stress and certain personality types are prime candidates for bruxism. People who are aggressive, competitive and hurried also may be at a greater risk for bruxism.
What can be done about it?
During regular visits, the dentist automatically checks for physical signs of bruxism. If the dentist or patient notices signs of bruxism, the condition may be observed over several visits to be sure of the problem before recommending and starting therapy. Research has shown that there are 3 root causes of bruxism. 1) Central Nervous System reflex 2) Bad bite (unbalanced or over closed bite) 3) Habit. Peoples whose root cause is due to a bad bite may benefit from neuromuscular TMD treatment. This involves having a computer assited bite splint fabricated. Patients with a unbalanced or over closed bite usually report having headaches or painful jaw joints. Those patients that have CNS reflex or habits are usually best treated with a custom fabricated nightguard made by a dentist. This protects the teeth from losing further tooth structure. It is very important that the night guard fits very snug and is very rigid. This is so that the forces generated by the clenching and grinding are dispersed over the surface of the night guard. Over the counter night guards do not meet this criteria and are therefore potentially harmful.
If you think you may be a bruxer make sure you discuss it with your dentist.