Teeth clenching, also known as bruxism, is a condition in which people clench, grind or gnash their teeth. Often, people are not aware that they are clenching their teeth, especially if they do so while asleep. There are several degrees of bruxism, ranging from a mild condition in which treatment is not required to a severe condition in which bruxism can cause headaches, tooth damage, jaw disorders and other problems.
Several physical and psychological factors including, but not limited to, the following may cause bruxism:
• suppressed frustration or anger
• malocclusion (misalignment of teeth)
• in children, pain from teething or possibly earaches
• certain antidepressants and other psychiatric medications, as an uncommon side effect
• tension, stress or anxiety
• a hyperactive, aggressive or competitive personality
• sleep problems
Symptoms of bruxism include
• worn down teeth
• worn down tooth enamel
• sensitive teeth
• flattened, chipped or fractured teeth
• pain or tightness in jaw muscles
• headache, chronic facial pain and earache (related to jaw muscle contractions, not to a problem originating in the ear)
• damage to the inside of your cheek from chewing on it
• tongue indentations
Your dentist will likely check for bruxism during a regular dental exam. He/she will look for signs that you have been clenching your teeth regularly by searching for tooth fractures, worn down teeth, worn down enamel, and breakdown of dental restorations . If your dentist believes you have bruxism, he/she will want to examine your progress to see if you require treatment by having you return for several visits. You may have to discuss your lifestyle (including sleep habits and whether you drink alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated beverages), general dental health and daily medications with your dentist. Your dentist may also order X-rays to view the extent of damage done to your teeth and the rest of your mouth, including the inside of your cheeks.
Treatment of bruxism is required only for some people, as most children outgrow bruxism on their own and most adults do not cause severe damage to their teeth by grinding them. In some cases, however, treatment is required. Treatment options include the following.
• Stress management: Learn how to manage your stress by seeking the help of a professional. If you do not want to see a professional, make lifestyle adjustments, such as dedicating a time each day to meditation or exercise. These practices will help you alleviate stress and can help you avoid grinding your teeth, especially if you learn to relax before you go to sleep.
• For children: Try giving your child a bath at night and reading to him/her before bedtime. Your dentist may also recommend a splint (protective dental appliance) to prevent your child from damaging his/her teeth when grinding.
• Changing behavior patterns: You can help protect your teeth by making changes in your daily behavior. Aside from avoiding alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated beverages (especially before bed), you can talk to your dentist about other helpful tips to stop you from grinding your teeth. You can try keeping your lips closed, with your teeth apart and tongue upward.
Follow these tips in an effort to reduce bruxism:
• Avoid coffee and other stimulants at night and do not smoke in the evening.
• Learn to manage your stress through exercising, meditating or taking a warm bath. Listen to music or read a book at night before you go to bed.
• See your dentist regularly. Your dentist will be able to identify bruxism during routine dental examinations, so it’s important to have professional dental cleanings twice a year.
• Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss properly at least once a day to keep your teeth healthy and strong and to stay in the habit of protecting your teeth.
If you suspect you have bruxism, consult with a dentist as soon as possible.
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