What is Bruxism? How Can I Manage Grinding Teeth?

What is bruxism? Individuals waking up with sore jaws and headaches is becoming a more common occurrence as of late. While it’s difficult to definitively say there is one common motivating cause behind these issues — particularly accounting for the differing lifestyle factors amongst patients — one issue that is on the rise, and is known to cause frequent headaches and jaw pain, is what is called bruxism.

What is Bruxism?

The official term may be unfamiliar to most patients, but the definition highlights one of the most common dental issues — bruxism is a condition in which an individual grinds, gnashes, or clenches their teeth, occurring during the day or night, usually unconsciously. Bruxism is usually attributed to a rise in stress or anxiety, but it can also be caused by moments of intense concentration, or even physical issues, such as an abnormal alignment of the jaw. Gastroesophageal reflux issues, sleep apnea, and depression can all also lead to grinding teeth, as can regularly taking certain brands of antidepressants. Overall, teeth grinding is rarely a siloed issue, and an additional cause is more often than not the true culprit.

Individuals who regularly grind their teeth can suffer from more than just headaches and jaw pain, as well, as continual bruxism leads to further serious health issues. For instance, clenching and grinding in the night can lead to individuals scraping away the enamel on their teeth, exposing weak areas of the teeth below the enamel, making the teeth more brittle and sensitive. This makes it difficult for patients to eat, drink, and sometimes breathe, and increases the chance for harmful bacterial infections. It can also lead to cracked teeth or crowns, which is both a painful and expensive issue to address.

Why Bruxism is on the Rise

As mentioned, increased stress and anxiety are corroborating factors that lead to higher incidences of bruxism. While further research is needed to draw a conclusive link, there is promising evidence pointing to the last year spent dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as a source driving the uptick in cases of bruxism.

As the nation dealt with a barrage of constantly shifting socio-economic factors — including periods of lockdown, decreased abilities to interact socially, rises in unemployment, and the uncertainty created by contending with information shifts surrounding a rapidly evolving virus — there was a steady increase in stress, fear, and anxiety throughout the last year. Under the pressure of this increased emotional weight, it’s natural that many would find themselves suffering an increase in teeth grinding as a result, a physical manifestation of the mental toll we all felt.

How to Diagnose and Treat Teeth Grinding

Dentists will be able to catch signs of potential bruxism in patients returning to the practice for routine annual exams and cleanings. The wear and tear introduced to upper and lower teeth by consistent grinding is a tell-tale sign to dental professionals about the likely root cause of the issue.

While the issues the emotional and mental issues that result in bruxism will not be able to be addressed by a dentist directly, there are ways dentists can help. The most common method is providing patients with an oral appliance, such as a nightguard, to protect patients’ teeth from being ground down while they slumber. Over-the-counter varieties exist, and a doctor can recommend the right product to use should a patient ask, but if the issue is more serious or long term, dentists can also create a custom mouthguard to fit a patient’s teeth exactly. This way, the patient has a guard that fits more closely with their actual bite, leaving less room for discomfort while trying to sleep, and providing more comfortable protection to fit a patient’s mouth.

While most would like to leave the remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic far behind, leaving bruxism untreated is unadvisable, as the increased pain, headaches, and jaw issues can drastically lower the day-to-day quality of life for patients, and lay the groundwork for a number of larger dental issues. Instead, if a patient catches themselves grinding their teeth during the day, or if they suspect it is happening during the night time, schedule time to visit a dentist for proper diagnosis. Addressing the issue head-on will leave a patient’s smile intact, as it restores confidence in dental health, and eliminates chronic headaches and jaw pain.

If you’re a central Illinois resident, looking for dental specialist with top quality care and customer service, look to the team at Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry of Frankfurt. Providing the community with high-quality professional dental services from an experienced, committed staff, Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry is dedicated to making each patient feel welcome, safe, and respected. Reach out to the team at Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry today to schedule your next dental service appointment.