Do you find yourself tightly clenching your teeth in heavy traffic, at work, or while dealing with stressful situations? Does your partner complain you loudly grind your teeth at night? Though it may seem like no big deal, you could have a subconscious condition called bruxism. Brought on by stress and anxiety, bruxism not only causes jaw pain, headaches, jagged sleep, and neck and shoulder tension, it can also cause broken teeth, facial misalignment and other temporomandibular damage. Here are some tips to help you quit grinding your teeth.
Many people don’t know they brux
According to the American Dental Association, 95 percent of Americans grind or clench their teeth at some point in their lives, but more than 20 percent of Americans suffering from bruxism don’t even know it.
So how can you determine if you are a bruxer? You are likely suffering from the following symptoms:
Headaches: If you wake up with headaches or have them after a stressful day, it could be due to your facial and head muscles being fatigued from all the teeth clenching and grinding. You may also experience ear aches.
Jaw pain: When your jaw muscles are overworked, you can experience jaw pain as well as temporomandibular jaw disorder – also known as TMJ.
Tooth damage: Worn down or loose teeth are extremely common. Some people grind their teeth with a force strong enough to crack a nut! Over time, this force can damage teeth, gums, and even facial alignment.
Neck and shoulder pain: Your neck and shoulder muscles will compensate for your tired jaw muscles, resulting in you waking up with neck and shoulder tension and achiness.
What causes bruxism?
Stress and anxiety are most likely to blame. And, if you are a bruxer, you may notice that you experience more tension, aches and pains in your face, head, neck and shoulders on the mornings after days you experience a great deal of stress.
Other factors may be jaw misalignment, crooked or missing teeth, sinus problems, sleep disorders, or a side effect of some antidepressants.
Emotional factors, such as suppressed anger or having a Type A personality, may also exacerbate stress and bruxing.
The costs of bruxism
Dr Noshir Mehta, professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston and chairman of general dentistry and director of the Craniofacial Pain Center, says bruxism affects about one in 20 adults and approximately 25 percent of children. And it isn’t without costs – even beyond dollars.
“While there are no specific numbers as to the cost of bruxism worldwide, the cost of dental repair due to wearing or breakage of the teeth with the need for fillings, crowns, root canals and gum treatments is enormous. The overall cost of not treating nightime bruxism has generally been estimated in the many millions of dollars on a yearly basis,” he explains.
Having bruxism can negatively impact quality of life, too. The associated physical effects can disrupt sleep, cause performance problems at work or school, and result in daily pain and tension, which over time can even cause depression.
Bruxism impacts women and men differently
Dr Mehta says that bruxism affects men and women relatively equally but that the effects may vary.
“Generally women tend to have more muscle tenderness and pain in their jaws and associated headaches. Men tend to exhibit more wear of the teeth and bulkier muscles of their jaws. The tendency may be related to the differences of muscle type and factors of hormonal balance between males and females,” he says.
Hormones are likely a huge factor in women being afflicted with temporomandibular disorders (TMD). Research indicates that women, most between puberty and menopause, account for 80 to 90 percent of temporomandibular disorder patients.
In addition,researchers at the the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a division of the National Institutes of Health, have documented a correlation between hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptive therapy with pain treatment, which may explain why more women tend to suffer symptoms and seek help for TMD pain.