What is Bruxism • Teeth Grinding & Teeth Clenching
Teeth Grinding

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding and teeth clenching, and involves any type of forceful contact between the teeth.

Teeth grinding and teeth clenching are conditions that affect a large percentage of the population, both children and adults. People with bruxism are unconsciously clenching or grinding their teeth together while awake or asleep, more often when they feel anxious or tense.

Sleep Bruxism • Grinding Teeth at Night

Many people are not aware that they have a bruxism problem because they grind/clench their teeth at night while asleep, without realizing it until they (or their dentists) notice signs of tooth or jaw damage caused by the disorder. Tooth grinding or clenching that occurs at night is called sleep bruxism.

Sleep bruxism is often the bigger problem because it is harder to control. It is one of the most common sleep disorders, especially in children and during periods of stress.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding is a condition when the teeth of the bottom and upper jaw are moved against each other with a side to side action. This can wear down the occlusal (biting) surfaces of the teeth. In most cases, teeth grinding involves the front teeth, canines and incisors.

Nighttime teeth grinding can be noisy enough to be a real annoyance for sleeping partners. Like clenching, grinding can lead not only to tooth wear but also to jaw pain and other dental problems.

Teeth Clenching

Teeth clenching is a condition when you tightly hold your top and bottom teeth together, especially the back teeth. Most people clench their teeth when they perform tasks that require intensive force. The real problem is when :

  • It becomes a habit. Some people clench their teeth even for mental tasks; others while just watching tv.
  • It happens also during the night. Besides the problem of not realising that you have the habit of clenching teeth at night while sleeping, the biting force is usually much greater than the pressure of clenching teeth while awake.

Teeth clenching puts pressure on the muscles, tissues, and other structures around the jaws. The condition leads to TMJ disorder related symptoms as jaw pain and soreness, headaches, damaged teeth, and other problems. Migraine headaches are a usual symptom in for patients clenching teeth while sleeping.

Due to the constant pressure, teeth clenching may damage the periodontal ligaments (connective tissues that hold the root of the tooth attached to the jawbone) which could result in loose teeth.

Bruxism is an occasional problem of little consequence for most people. But for others, teeth grinding and/or teeth clenching can cause TMJ disorders and permanent damage to the teeth.

What causes bruxism? • Reasons for Grinding Teeth

Bruxism is an unintentional habit that can occur during the day or during sleep. Allthough the exact causes of teeth grinding are unknown, most experts believe that bruxism is related to increased psychological stress and anxiety. The main causes of bruxism include the following:

Causes of bruxism in adults

In adults, bruxism is mostly associated with psychological factors, including :

  • Emotional stress, tension and increased anxiety.
  • Suppressed anger or frustration
  • Personality type. Some studies show that persons with aggressive, overly competitive, controlling or hyperactive personalities have an increased incidence of bruxism.

Other reasons mentioned as causes of teeth grinding in adults are :

  • Jaw, head or neck injury.
  • Certain sleep disorders.
  • Central nervous system dysfunction. Some theories are linking bruxism to the central nervous system disorders such as Huntington's disease or Parkinson's disease.
  • Antidepressant medications like Prozac, Celexa and others, or drugs like ecstasy and cocaine have been reported to cause bruxism as a side effect.
  • Abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth (malocclusion) may contribute to teeth grinding.
  • Alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine are considered as aggravating factors for bruxism.

Causes of bruxism in children

Bruxism is common in young children, but usually goes away by adolescence. Bruxism in children is usually related to growth and development of the jaws and teeth.

  • Improper teeth alignment – As the permanent teeth are erupting one after the other, top and bottom teeth don't fit together comfortably until the permanent dentition is completed. This might explain why bruxism usually stops by adolescence.
  • Tension and anger may cause bruxism in children also just like in adults
  • Others believe that children grind their teeth as a response to teething or other pain.

It is important for successful treatment of teeth grinding and clenching, that the dentist identifies correctly what causes bruxism, so that the proposed treatment will be suitable for the individual patient's needs.

The cost involved with dental treatments can be significant and many patients may not afford it if they are not covered by their dental insurance. Learn how to choose a dental insurance plan that will provide the best dental treatment to you and your family.

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