Bruxism or Teeth Grinding

Dr Helena Torpinski
19 April 2019

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is relatively common and can make a huge impact on dental and health bills. So it’s worth learning a little more about what it is, what causes or influences and what can be done about it. .

What is bruxism?

Simply put, bruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding. It is particularly used in reference to teeth grinding that takes place while you’re sleeping.

While bruxism has a spectrum of severity, meaning it doesn’t always need treatment, the result of significant bruxism can be damaging enough, both to the teeth themselves and other physical conditions, that treatment can often be worthwhile.

Symptoms of bruxism

We don’t always know we’re grinding our teeth in our sleep, particularly if our bruxism is not severe. But there are clear signs it may be an issue, such as:

  • your teeth are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose
  • your tooth enamel is worn, exposing deeper layers of your teeth
  • (not surprisingly then) you have an increase in tooth pain and sensitivity
  • you experience tired or tight jaw muscles
  • you have a locked jaw that wont open or close completely
  • your jaw, neck and face experience pain
  • you have headaches
  • you experiences disturbed sleep
  • your partner reports being able to hear you grinding your teeth while you sleep.

Causes of teeth grinding

There is no one specific cause of teeth grinding, but there are some factors that commonly contribute to the condition.

Stress and anxiety are the primary culprits, in various forms. If you’re prone to high stress or anxiety, and you’re experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, it’s worth talking to your doctor, dentist or dermatologist about this issue.

Medications or drugs that can impact anxiety can also play a role. These include some antidepressants, so be sure to ask your prescribing doctor about the possible impact your medication could have. However, it’s not just prescription drugs that can negatively affect bruxism. Tobacco, alcohol, recreational drugs and even caffeine can all raise the body’s stress levels, worsening bruxism.

Certainly personality types seems more susceptible to high tension and therefore can have higher rates of bruxism. These include people who are competitive, hyperactive or aggressive.

Some medical conditions seem to bring bruxism along with them, in some people. These include dementia, parkinson’s disease, reflux, epilepsy and ADHD.

Finally, there seems to be a familial or genetic component to bruxism. So if your parents grind their teeth while they sleep, you’re at higher risk also.

Treatment for bruxism

As mentioned above, mild or moderate bruxism may not require treatment at all. Also, teeth grinding can be quite common in children, often disappearing by adulthood and therefore not requiring treatment.

But if the symptoms are beginning to bother you or cause noticeable effect on your body, seek your doctor’s or dentist’s advice.

Common treatments for bruxism are listed below.

Splints and mouth guards

These are a common solution to the symptom of disintegrating teeth. The guard is made specifically to fit your mouth and worn at night, lessening the impact on teeth.

While not always comfortable or attractive, they can eliminate the primary symptom with any invasive treatment or high cost.

Dental correction

Bruxism can be related to poor jaw and tooth alignment. In such cases, dental intervention can correct this mis-alignment enough to reduce or eliminate bruxism.

Stress and anxiety management

Bruxism is so highly correlated with stress and anxiety that it’s no surprise learning to better manage these experiences can help reduce it. Activities like relaxation and meditation, counselling and therapy can all have a strong impact on night time teeth grinding. Our last blog, which talked about Stress and your Skin, lists some other stress reductions options. Read that article here.

Treatment for underlying mental health issues

For some people, stress and anxiety are themselves symptoms of more profound mental health issues that can be treated by mental health and therapeutic professionals. If you suffer issues like depression or regular anxiety or phobia, talk to your GP about these things and explore the options available for treatment.

Treatment for associated disorders

As mentioned previously, other conditions are closely linked to bruxism, such as sleep apnoea, reflux, restless leg syndrome and other sleep issues. Seeking treatment for these disorders can help reduce the impact of bruxism and may reduce the teeth grinding also.

Botulinum Toxin Type A

Botulinum Toxin Type A is used to help relieve the muscle tension associated with teeth clenching and grinding. It provides relief from sore muscles in the jaw, tense muscles that cause headaches and also can soften the appearance of the jaw particularly the condition known as hypertrophy – a severe square jaw.

This injectable can also weaken the overactive nature of the muscles that grind teeth together without affecting the ability to eat properly.

We inject the jaw muscles with an extremely dilute form of the toxin to partially weaken them. It takes about 15 minutes and involves minimal discomfort. The effect of the toxin is apparent within 1-2 weeks and will last between 3-6 months.

Want more information? 

If you’re concerned about the bruxism symptoms you’re experiencing, or anything else raised in this article, we recommend contacting your GP, in the first instance, or your dentist. If you believe botulinum toxin type A may be worth exploring as a treatment for bruxism, we suggest you consult our dermatologist to discuss the treatment further. To book an appointment at our clinic, call our receptionists on (02) 9953 9522.

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Written by Dr Helena Torpinski. Dr Helena is a GP and Skin Laser Specialist who loves helping our patients feel great in the skin their in.