Unexplained soreness of the jaw or neck muscles and persistent headaches could be an indication that you are suffering from bruxism, or grinding and clenching of the teeth. The problem is treatable and more common that you may realize, even though most people are completely unaware that they do it.
Frequently, people who clench and grind their teeth do so during sleep, and learn about it from their sleep partner. Sometimes bruxism is discovered when clients ask their dentist about pain or an odd sensation that their teeth are loose. However, the habit can create a long list of symptoms from mild to significant and can be quite destructive to the teeth themselves as well as to supporting structures, causing the gum recession and bone loss which can eventually cause teeth to be lost. Among people who chronically grind, fractured teeth and damage to the nerves which can require root canal therapy are common. Unfortunately, this treatable behavior can exist for a long time before it is diagnosed, because many of the symptoms can be easily overlooked or ignored, and may be thought to have another cause. Consider bringing to your dentist’s attention any of the following symptoms:
- Headaches or Migraines
- Loose teeth
- Changes in the way your teeth fit together
- Sensitive teeth
- Gum recession
- Neck pain
- Soreness of the jaw or neck
Bruxism is thought to run in families but it is also be a common response to stress, anxiety and depression. Other causes of the habit include bite problems, eating disorders, excessive alcohol use, and medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and obsessive compulsive disorder. Ideally, treating bruxism involves managing or eliminating the cause but obviously, this is not always possible andtreatment for the behavior and its symptoms often focuses on interruption of the grinding, relieving stress on the jaw joint and and preventing damage to the teeth .
Careful examination of the teeth may reveal fine cracks, wear facets in the tooth anatomy, and otherwise unexplained changes in the bone around the teeth. These findings, along with a thorough medical history will help your dentist diagnose bruxism and suggest a treatment plan. Most frequently, a hard plastic occlusal splint is custom made to fit the teeth. Worn while sleeping, this “nightguard ” protects the teeth by covering their surface and enabling them to glide easily. The night guard is form-fitting, covers all of the upper teeth and prevents them from shifting over time which ultimately prevents gradual changes in how teeth fit together. A different type of FDA approved appliance called an NTI(Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition system) fits only over the upper front teeth and prevents the back teeth from touching at all. Other treatment options including biofeedback, hypnosis, dietary supplements and (rarely) Botox injections are less well known and have had mixed or questionableresults.
People who have been grinding their teeth for a long time may have significantly damaged their teeth; in severe cases they can even be worn down to the gum line. The damage may have left teeth sensitive and susceptible to cavities, and may have even caused changes in the shape of your face or the way you feel about your smile. The first step in addressing these issues is always to treat the bruxism so that no further damage occurs; and the good news is that there are several cosmetic options that can improve the function of your teeth as well as their appearance. Your cosmetic dentist may suggest crowns, veneers or bonding as part of your complete treatment plan.
Unexplained symptoms may not be as mysterious as you think… why not talk to your dentist about bruxism and what treatment options may be right for you? You deserve a beautiful, pain-free smile!