Bruxism may sound foreign and scary, but it is actually the clinical term for a very common and well-known behavior: grinding, clenching, gritting, or gnashing your teeth. There is no consensus on how much of the population suffers from bruxism, partly because there is such a wide range to the behavior. Some people only grind their teeth in their sleep (sleep bruxism) while others do so all day. Some only clench their teeth in response to an immediate stressor while others gash their teeth all day grinding them down to nubs that require reconstructive surgery. Some are bruxers as kids but grow out of it, and others develop a lifelong habit. Either way, bruxism is potentially a big deal, but there are things you can do about it.
What Causes Bruxism?
Stress and anxiety are the leading causes of bruxism, especially when it develops later in life, with up to 70% of bruxism being caused by stress. You are less likely to develop it if you have a good outlet for your stress, like exercise. Medications can also be a cause of bruxism, specifically some anxiety medications. Finally, people with hyperactivity or ADHD may be more prone to bruxism as an outlet for their nervous energy. In children, bruxism can be associated with mouth breathing, sleep apnea, stress, and dental issues.
Is It Harmful?
Over time, the cumulative effects of bruxism can become a big dental problem. It can lead to loose teeth, broken teeth, teeth that are totally ground down, jaw pain, headaches, and receding gums among other issues. Another issue to be aware of is TMJ disorders. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects the skull to the jaw. TMJ disorders can be caused by bruxism (though they can also be caused by other things).
Can You Treat It?
When it comes to treating bruxism, you can treat the symptoms and you can try to correct the behavior. Symptoms like jaw soreness or pain can be helped with a warm washcloth. Doing jaw exercises may also help. Tooth pain and sensitivity can be treated by a dentist, but it will continue as long as the tooth grinding continues. If instead, you want to correct the behavior, you should try to reduce your stress, drink more water, and get more sleep. You could also get a nightguard to wear to stop any nighttime grinding. If your kids are grinding their teeth, you should mention it to their dentist. However, most kids outgrow the behavior before their adult teeth come in so the only damage is to their baby teeth.
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