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Clenching and grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, can create enough wear and tear to damage your enamel, cause breaks in your teeth and create misaligned bite, Temporomandibular joint disorder or even loss of teeth. It’s the most common problem and there are many causes.

Stress and anxiety can lead many people to become occasional tooth grinders. These days dentists are increasingly concerned that the economic downturn may be exacerbating the problem.

Tooth grinding or clenching of the teeth can happen during the day or while you sleep, can also be caused by sleep disorders or abnormal bite, crooked or missing teeth.

Some symptoms include a dull headache or a sore jaw. In some cases, teeth may become fractured . Cracks in teeth are usually microscopic,but when they open the pulp inside becomes irritated. The irritation can lead to sensitivity, especially to extreme temperatures. This also indicates the relationship between bruxism and TMJ.

TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint, which connects the lower jawbone to the skull. The TMJ works as a hinge allowing you to open and close your mouth,chew,talk, and make facial expressions. When these common movements  results in pain, you may be experiencing TMJ disorder. However, TMJ may manifest as a number of other symptoms.

There are many causes to TMJ  such as, excessive gum chewing, sleeping on one side of the jaw,yawning , or singing. Other conditions like arthritis or even some antidepressant medications are a contributing factor to TMJ disorder. It occurs in children as well as adults and if not treated only worsens over time and can cause earache, jaw and muscle pain, limited movement to your head and neck, and chronic grinding can even change the appearance of your face. Grinding in your sleep can cause sleep apnea which is potentially dangerous and life threatening.

What are the Treatment options:

Home Remedies/Self Care

70% of bruxism cases are related to stress and anxiety, Non-invasive methods are the best place to start and they include the application of soothing moist heat to the jaw to relax the tension.If anxiety is the underlying cause of the problem,stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation,massage,stretching exercises, and even hypnosis and acupuncture may help alleviate symptoms. Other self care tips:

  • Reduce consumption of alcohol/food and drinks that contain caffeine
  • Avoid chewing gum/eating hard candy
  • Positioning the tip of your tongue between your teeth, help train the jaw muscles to relax
  • not chewing on non-food items
  • Increase intake of water
  • Avoid large yawns

Medical Treatments

Depending on the severity of your problem your dentist may recommend a mouth guard or splint, which is a custom made appliance that fits over your upper or lower teeth in order to prevent inadvertent tooth movement  while sleeping.Studies are ongoing in terms of testing medications for bruxism and teeth grinding. Successful treatments occurred in small studies with the drugs Topiramate,Gabapentin, and Hydroxyzine, but each of these drugs have a potentially dangerous side effect. These drugs also treat the arousal of nerves, but do not cure the underlying issues causing the problem in the first place. A fairly new therapy for bruxism is CES, which involves the application of low-level electrical stimulation on the jaw and facial muscles during an active bruxism episode,initial results are promising, but much further study needed.

Finding a TMJ Specialist

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it’s time to see a dentist experienced in treating TMJ. In the intial consultation, the dentist will inquire about your overall health,sleep habits and other factors that may help in the treatment of jaw clenching and locking. Once a clear understanding of the causes is achieved, a treatment plan can be recommended to resolve the bruxism symptoms should it be associated with a jaw disorder.