If you wake up with a headache or a sore jaw, you may be grinding your teeth at night. Or, perhaps you clench your teeth together when you are stressed or angry. Then you may not realize that you have a condition known as bruxism.
Bruxism refers to a persistent grinding and clenching of the teeth, usually unintentional. Grinding often occurs shortly after one falls sleep during the REM stage, even when napping. Typically, the teeth move against one another in a lateral, or side to side, action. This erodes tooth enamel, removing the sharp biting surfaces. Some grind with such intensity that it is loud enough to wake a sleeping partner.
People who suffer from bruxism may also bite their fingernails or pencils, or chew the insides of their cheeks. When angry or stressed, the teeth and jaw are tightly clenched putting pressure not only on the teeth but on the jaw structure as well.
Bruxism may be mild and occasional or aggressive and frequent.
“I sometimes wake up with my jaw clenched and feel like I have been grinding my teeth through the night,” said Yusef Pehlivan, 18, geology. “But only happens once or twice a week and my dentist hasn’t said anything.”
One may not know they brux until they visit their dentist for a routine exam, and dental erosion is evident.
“Wear facets on a patient’s teeth, mostly on the cusps and canines,” is one clue for a bruxism diagnosis, said Dean Garcia, a Laguna Hills dentist. “Other signs and symptoms include headache, neck or backaches, and teeth sensitivity.”
Bruxers are often unaware of this condition until there is damage to their teeth or jaw. Other symptoms include facial pain, damage to the inside of the cheek, tongue indentations, and jaw pain.
Clenching the puts pressure on the muscles, tissues, and the region around the jaw. The symptoms can cause temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ). One symptom is a popping or clicking sound when opening and closing the mouth.
I suffer from TMJ, I do not noticeably grind my teeth at night, but my jaw tends to lock up throughout the day,” said Ian Akerson, 22, journalism. “I’m not sure if it’s due to bruxism though.”
According to the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, “Whilst there are many causes of [TMJ], one of the most frequently encountered is bruxism. The two conditions have factors in common and there is a rational physiological reason why bruxism could cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction.”
Causes of bruxism are unclear. It can be due to a lack of symmetry in the teeth, but most professionals seem to agree that stress and anxiety are a large factor.
College students are one age group who are familiar with nervous tension and its effects. With the pressure of school, many are also juggling a part-time job, sports, family, and other activities. Garcia said that he sees a high number of college students showing effects and requiring treatment.
“It’s mainly with those students who take it seriously and are the type to do a lot of studying,” Garcia said.
Treatment includes a custom-made acrylic mouth guard, worn at night. This prevents the teeth from touching and it relaxes the jaw muscles. Other treatments include stress reduction techniques including behavior modification, biofeedback.
So, if you are a grinding-clenching student, it’s probably time to visit your dentist. But it’s also important to find a comfortable and safe way to relax.