Despite the development and progression of modern medicine and healthcare, certain ailments continue to pose questions to the pharmaceutical industry. While cures for ailments such as the flu remain evasive, the cause behind other health issues is yet to be fully understood. Bruxism or teeth grinding, as it is more commonly known, is one such health problem. Despite being a particularly prevalent issue, we still do not know what causes people to grind their teeth. Bruxism is an extremely common problem, as various studies indicate that over 8% of American adults have complained of teeth grinding. The numbers are even larger in kids, with over one-third of parents reporting that their children suffered from the disorder.
Before exploring bruxism further, it is important to understand there are two types of teeth grinding – Sleeping Bruxism (SB) and Awake Bruxism (AB). As the terms suggest, sleeping bruxism is grinding of teeth at night when the body is asleep while awake bruxism surfaces during the day time. Interestingly, awake bruxism is significantly more common in females than in males. Further observation also reveals that bruxism is rare amongst elderly people and much more prevalent in children. It is worth noting that while bruxism causes damage to the teeth and can be classified as a dental disorder, it is usually included under sleeping disorders instead.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the medical term for grinding of the teeth. It is the uncontrollable clenching of the jaw that causes friction between the teeth and can lead to long-term damage, wear and tear. In fact, bruxism is relatively common in children when they are very young but tends to disappear as they grow older. More often than not, it is very difficult for a person to self-diagnose sleeping bruxism, especially if they live alone. Telltale symptoms of bruxism include faint headaches in the morning and painful jaws and teeth.
This difficulty in identifying sleeping bruxism is just one of the many difficulties that complicate its treatment. While some are simply unable to identify it, others treat it as a temporary issue that will pass. The grinding of teeth is almost impossible to naturally control and this can lead to anxiety, embarrassment and helplessness while the sudden flare-ups and unexpected episodes can be wearisome to deal with.
What causes Bruxism?
It’s a question that has baffled doctors and medical researchers but the truth is that we are yet to pinpoint the exact cause of bruxism. Multiple studies have been conducted to identify a pattern amongst patients and to check whether the ailment is hereditary but all efforts have produced blanks.
While the main reason is still unclear, there is evidence that indicates bruxism is caused by a combination of multiple factors, especially in cases where the disorder persists during adulthood. Bruxism may develop in children as a result of –
- Improper jaw alignment.
- Uneven teeth distribution and shape of molars.
- Broken or missing teeth.
Physical factors such as Improper jaw alignment and uneven distribution of teeth suggests that there is a genetic angle to bruxism as well, even though it does not necessarily mean that it was widely present in the patient’s family history.
This is more common in cases of sleeping bruxism, where it starts off as accidental grinding and develops into a habit. It can also reflect an underlying, more serious condition such as intestinal, digestive or gastrointestinal related ailments.
There is considerable evidence that indicates psychological issues such as stress and anxiety play a large role in bruxism and could be the primary cause for the ailment, especially in adults. Surveys conducted by official government medical bodies indicate that bruxism could be a coping mechanism for other stress and psychological reasons. Stress is also a common factor that disrupts the quality of sleep as well as the sleep cycle.
The Effects of Bruxism
Teeth grinding has negative effects that cause immediate short-term discomfort as well as long-term issues. It is essential to identify and treat bruxism as soon as possible, which is easier said than done as many people do not realise they are grinding their teeth. Others tend to dismiss it as a temporary problem. The short-term effects of bruxism include mouth ulcers, irregular sleep cycle, waking up with a headache, pain in the jaws and gums.
The long-term effects are more serious, for the grinding of teeth against each other results in the hard, protective outer layer of enamel wearing away. This can result in basic wear and tear of teeth and leaves them vulnerable to dental issues such as dentin hypersensitivity (sensitive teeth), cavities, root infection, toothache and reduced functioning.
Treatment for Teeth-Grinding and Bruxism
In technical terms, there is no single cure for bruxism, unless it is a side-effect of an underlying disorder. Fortunately, that isn’t much of a concern, as there are viable treatment methods that limit the symptoms and pain, offering maximum relief to patients. Children in particular have a high chance of outgrowing bruxism, while most adults suffering from awake bruxism do not grind their teeth on an everyday basis. Awake bruxism can often be controlled with practice and increased consciousness and care. On the other hand, sleeping bruxism requires monitoring and more attention, as it is beyond the patient’s control.
Typically, the treatment for bruxism includes physical therapy and exercises, however, the most effective treatment, especially for sleep bruxism, is the use of mouth guards. Hard, plastic guards that cover either the lower or upper set of teeth are highly effective and provide maximum safety and relief. High-quality mouth guards have a perfect fitting and can be used overnight and for extended hours. Medical-grade mouth guards are the best way to treat all types of bruxism.
The bottom line is that bruxism is a common problem and is caused by a combination of genetic, physical, and psychological factors. It is an ailment that can be serious if left untreated but can be resolved effectively through the use of mouth guards and increased awareness!
Danny Sorkins is a dental health expert based out of New York. He has extensive experience as a dental health writer and has authored many research articles for renowned dental health publications, both online and offline. He is credited for his expert and comprehensive reviews on latest dental care tools and practices.