Bruxism is the technical term for grinding and clenching teeth. People who grind and clench (bruxers) may also bite their fingernails, pencils or other hard objects, and/or chew the inside of their lips and cheeks. About one in three people suffer from bruxism, which can easily be treated by a qualified dentist. Most people do not realize they have this destructive habit.
Bruxers frequently clench so often and so hard that over time their teeth become sensitive because bruxing exerts thousands of pounds of pressure on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Bruxers can experience jaw pain, tense muscles, earaches, headaches, neck aches, upper back aches, fractured or chipped teeth, as well as excessive wear on the teeth. Excessive/aggressive biting when not eating can cause the jaw to become unbalanced, damaging the jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint or TMJ).
One common sign that you may have bruxism is the flattening of the normally pointed tips of your teeth. Teeth are worn down so much that the enamel is rubbed off, exposing the inner layer of tooth, called dentin. Dentin is a softer layer of tooth which can become sensitive and is generally more prone to decay. Dentin wears 8 times faster than enamel, so the problems of wear accelerate once the dentin becomes exposed. Bruxers may experience popping, clicking and/or pain in their TMJ. Dysfunction in the TMJ is commonly referred to as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMD. Indentations along the side of the tongue are another possible sign of clenching.
Stress and certain personality types are frequently the cause of bruxism. Nervous tension, anger, pain and frustration can all trigger bruxing. People who are aggressive, competitive and overly hurried may also be at greater risk for bruxism. Bruxism can also occur when a person has not replaced lost or missing teeth. Tooth loss disturbs the relationship of the upper and lower jaws. Clenching and grinding are a common response as the jaws work to find a new, comfortable position. Unfortunately, this is very damaging to the remaining teeth and may ultimately lead to further tooth fractures and loss.
During regular dental check-ups, Dr. Mahlin will check for signs of excessive wear or stress on your teeth. Dr. Mahlin can make a plastic overlay (nightguard) for your teeth that will reduce the wear and tear on the teeth. Nightguards do not always stop bruxism. They are designed to reduce or eliminate the negative affects of bruxism. One very comfortable and highly successful new design for a nightguard to reduce the intensity of clenching is the NTI Tension Suppression System. The NTI is a small device that fits over your upper or lower front teeth. The NTI keeps your back teeth from touching and therefore helps protect your teeth from damaging wear caused by clenching and grinding. This device also repositions the jaw, which reduces muscular contractions that can lead to frequent headaches and migraine pain. The NTI appliance has been found to be twice as effective as any preventive medication. In clinical trials, 82% of migraine sufferers reported an average of 77% fewer migraines within the first 8 weeks of use.
If you have any questions about bruxism, Dr. Mahlin will be happy to discuss them with you.