What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is a term that describes what most of us refer to as clenching and teeth grinding.
Mostly it occurs during sleep. Most people are affected by bruxism, although not all people generate enough stresses to cause damage. Bruxism can damage to the teeth and jaw joints. The muscle spasm can lead to facial pain and headache. Waking with a headache is a sure sign of bruxism.
The cause of bruxism is not at all clear. It is an involuntary sleep disorder although it has also been linked to medications and allergies. Stress and anxiety are widely known to exacerbate bruxism.
Damage to the Teeth
Teeth wear down after years of nocturnal teeth grinding. Once the hard outer layer of the teeth (enamel) is worn through, the rate of wear accelerates because the exposed underlying dentine has little resistance to acid erosion and further physical wear. This leads to worn, over-closed bites which can then predispose to inflammatory jaw joint problems. This can be solved with dental work to rebuild the teeth.
Bruxism also caused gum recessions and abfractions, which refers to loss of tooth substance near the gum lines which often feels like ridges. This can lead to sensitivity and increased susceptibility to acid erosion and tooth decay. Abfractions are easily repaired.
Teeth can also fracture as a result of bruxism forces, resulting in the requirement for treatment or at worst, extraction of split teeth.
Bruxism can damage the TMJ (jaw joint), resulting in ear-ache pain, clicking of the joints and limited jaw opening. Crooked teeth can make the problem worse, as the teeth force the jaw into unnatural positions. This is why orthodontics can be an important treatment.
The only treatment for bruxism is an occlusal splint, or night-guard. They are small plastic appliances worn at night to keep the teeth apart. They eliminate further wearing, abfraction, gum recession and fracturing. Also, the thickness of the splint has a positive effect on unloading stresses on the TMJ. Splints often also work well to alleviate morning headaches.