Bruxism is considered a neuromuscular activity and one of the most common sleep disorders. The condition is characterised by clenching or grinding the teeth. Most people are not aware they are actually doing it.
While grinding and clenching of teeth can occur while awake and during sleep, the latter is considered more challenging because it is harder to control. Without bruxism treatment, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, myofascial pain, and headaches can occur. Severe cases of the condition may also lead to arthritis of the temporomandibular joints.
When patients don’t seek bruxism treatment, other health issues can arise. Apart from the possible side effects mentioned earlier, bruxism can also:
- Cause the teeth to become blunt, short, and fractured
- Jaw stiffness and pain
- Popping and clicking of jaw joints
- Sore gums
- Dull headache
In addition, earaches can also manifest since the temporomandibular joint structures are close to the ear canal. Referral pain (pain that is felt in another location and not from the source) may also occur.
Left unattended, bruxism can also lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and eating disorders. If the noise bothers the sleep partner, relationship problems can also develop. Severe bruxism can also damage the teeth’s occlusal surfaces particularly the molars.
While the exact cause of bruxism is unclear, several factors are considered to be involved. In children, grinding often occurs after the first teeth appears and as soon as the permanent teeth emerges. In most cases, bruxism stops soon as the adult teeth fully erupted.
Grinding and clenching of teeth can also be attributed to stress, anxiety, or anger. Some research indicates that heart rate and brain activity can rise prior to an episode of bruxism, implying that the central nervous system (CNS) might play a role.
Bruxism has also been linked to an abnormal bite (the teeth does not meet properly when the jaw is closed). When the bottom and top teeth don’t come together accordingly, the condition is called occlusal discrepancy.
Having crooked or missing teeth can also cause bruxism in some people. In some cases, bruxism has been the side effect of taking certain medications like amphetamines and antidepressants.
Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, dementia, and other neurological conditions have also been known to cause bruxism. Also associated with gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and night terrors. Other lifestyle factors are also believed to trigger bruxism including smoking, fatigue, alcohol consumption and using recreational drugs.
Bruxism is a sleep related movement disorder and bruxers have an increased risk of having sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea. In children, it is associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Anxiety and stress management may help minimise or prevent bruxism. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends adhering to good sleep hygiene, including a quiet room that’s dark, cool, and has no computers, televisions, or other work-related items.
Relaxing a few hours before bedtime and adopting a “soothing bedtime routine” may also help. For children (and some people), this can include reading a book, listening to music, or a warm bath. A paediatrician can also help children with bruxism.
Exercising regularly may also be recommended. Also, using a mouth guard may be recommended to protect the teeth. Splints can also be another effective option patients can look into. To ensure any possible damage to the teeth is prevented, visiting the dentist right away is recommended.