Definition

Bruxism is the chronic, involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth. It usually occurs during sleep, but may also occur while awake.

Closed Jaw

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Causes

The exact cause of bruxism is unknown, but it is believed to be related to:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Abnormal alignment of the teeth or jaws

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors include:

  • Chronic stress or anxiety
  • Aggressive or competitive personality
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol —especially methamphetamines
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Age: 40 or younger; especially common in women aged 27-40
  • Family member with bruxism
  • Facial or oral trauma
  • Use of psychiatric medications, especially antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac
  • Prior serious head injury

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Grinding sounds during sleep
  • Teeth sensitive to heat, cold, or brushing
  • Tense facial or jaw muscles
  • Hairline crack of the enamel on some teeth
  • Sore teeth
  • Inflammation of the gums ( gingivitis )
  • Headache especially if it is present when waking in the morning
  • Damage to the inside of the cheek (from biting or chewing)
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD)

Diagnosis

The doctor or dentist will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your teeth and jaw. With bruxism, teeth will have flattened tips, excessive wear, or thin enamel.

Treatment

Methods of treatment include:

Behavioral or Cognitive Treatment

This method focuses on changing behavior through various techniques, such as:

Orthodontic Treatment

Your dentist may recommend a protective mouth appliance, such as a night guard, that can absorb the pressure of constant night grinding.

Medication

Medication is only recommended for short-term use. Medications may include:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Mild sleeping aids
  • Injection of botulinum toxin (Botox) in severe cases
  • Novel medications, such as clonidine, are being explored as alternative treatments for some patients.

Bruxism that is not treated may result in gum damage, loss of natural teeth, and jaw-related disorders.

Prevention

The same methods used to treat bruxism can be used to prevent the condition.