Newburgh Family Dental  Barbra Shea Perkins, DMD

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the technical term for grinding and clenching of the teeth that may cause facial pain. People who grind and clench their teeth, called bruxers, unintentionally bite down too hard at inappropriate times, such as in their sleep. In addition to grinding teeth, bruxers also may bite their fingernails, pencils and chew the inside of their cheek. People usually aren’t diagnosed with bruxism until it is too late, as many people don’t realize they have the habit. Others mistakenly believe that their teeth must touch at all times. About one in three people suffer from bruxism, which can easily be treated by a dentist.

People who have otherwise healthy teeth and gums can clench so often and so hard that over time their teeth become sensitive. They experience jaw pain, tense muscles and headaches along with excessive wear on their teeth. Forceful biting when not eating may cause the jaw to move out of proper balance.

Bruxism is triggered by people with certain types of personalities. They may have a nervous tension and a hard time handling stress. Anger, pain and frustration can cause people to start showing the beginning signs of bruxism without them even knowing it. People who are aggressive, competitive and hurried also may be at a greater risk for bruxism.

What are the signs?

When a person has bruxism, the tips of the teeth look flat. Teeth are worn down so much that the enamel is rubbed off, exposing the inside of the tooth, which is called dentin. When exposed, dentin may cause the tooth to become sensitive and develop decay. Bruxers may experience pain in their temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which may manifest as popping and clicking of the jaw. Tongue indentations are another sign of clenching. Increased sensitivity to cold is a common sign. Many people experience jaw muscle tightness or soreness when they wake in the morning as well.

Do you experience headaches in the morning?

Morning headaches and some migraine headaches are frequently associated with nighttime clenching/grinding. Even migraines can be triggered by clenching. We make a special night guard appliance, called an NTI device, specifically for this reason.

What can be done?

Your general dentist automatically checks for physical signs of bruxism and if it seems to be present the condition may be observed over several visits before recommending and starting therapy.

The objective of therapy is to get the bruxer to change behavior by learning how to rest the tongue, teeth and lips properly. When some people become aware of their problem, simply advising them to rest their tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut may be enough to change their behavior and relieve discomfort. The dentist will likely recommend a plastic mouth appliance, such as a night guard, be made for you and worn to absorb the force of biting. This appliance can prevent future damage to the teeth and helps change the patient’s destructive behavior. There are several types of night guard appliances, as well as other types of occlusal “splints” that your dentist may recommend depending on your particular situation.