Bruxism: Breaking Free from the GrindBruxism

Wake up with headaches? Find yourself rubbing a sore neck or jaw first thing in the morning, and you’re not sure where they came from? You may be suffering from bruxism, also known as tooth grinding.

Symptoms of bruxism

Most of the time, patients with bruxism aren’t aware that they grind or clench their teeth, but they do notice other symptoms such as:

  • Flattened or worn tooth appearance
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Painful jaw muscles
  • Locked or stiff jaw
  • Pain in the neck or face
  • Headaches
  • Pain that radiates from the head into the upper back
  • Earaches without bacteria present
  • Poor sleep quality

Why am I grinding my teeth?

There are many causes of bruxism, and doctors aren’t exactly sure why some people grind their teeth under certain conditions and some do not. Here are some common causes of bruxism:

  • Stress – Just as stress can cause us to tense our shoulders or hold our breath, it can cause us to grind our teeth, as well. Stress is linked to both sleep bruxism as well as daytime tooth clenching.
  • Substance use and abuse – Smoking, drinking alcohol, and having a dependence on caffeine are all linked to bruxism.
  • Antidepressant use 
  • Personality – People with more “high strung” personalities tend to have a higher incidence of bruxism.
  • Sleep disorders – Having other sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea increases your risk of bruxism.

I think I have bruxism. Now what?

If you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above, you may want to talk to your dentist or orthodontist. Your doctor can examine your teeth and jaw to determine is bruxism is the cause of what’s keeping you up at night (or making the mornings miserable).

Treatments for bruxism

If you are diagnosed with bruxism, there are several treatment options available. Your dentist or orthodontist may refer you out to a sleep specialist if co-occuring sleep issues are causing your bruxism. If your doctor believes that your tooth grinding is related to stress or anxiety, you may be referred to a counselor or psychologist to address those issues.

In addition to working with an outside provider like a counselor or sleep specialist, there are a lot of things your orthodontist can do to help you protect your teeth and eliminate the pain and stiffness related to bruxism.

Some treatments for bruxism you can choose from include:

  • Mouth guards – Wearing a mouth guard at night protects your teeth from the intense pressure put on them when you grind your teeth. Mouth guards are typically worn only at night.
  • Proper mouth positioning – You may be tempted to grind or clench your teeth because your mouth has become apt to stay in an unnatural position. Your orthodontist can show you the proper way to hold your jaw. As you practice proper positioning more and more, you may find that your bruxism goes away.
  • Muscle relaxers – Medications such as muscle relaxers can relax the muscles in the jaw before bedtime so you won’t be as tempted to grind.
  • Botox injections – Injections of Botox can temporarily numb the muscles responsible for tooth grinding to help you kick the unconscious habit.
  • Anxiety medications – If stress and anxiety are causing your bruxism, your doctor may recommend that you begin taking an anti-anxiety medication.