Bruxism is a disorder that involves involuntary teeth grinding. The teeth grind or rub together as the jaw moves forcefully from side to side or back and forth. Often the person is not aware of doing this.
It is estimated that 5 to 20% of the population suffers from it, and in most cases, the phenomenon occurs during sleep.
Grinding of the teeth can cause muscle hypertrophy, contractures, and, of course, excessive wear of the teeth. If it is not diagnosed, bruxism can cause damage to the teeth and to the entire jaw.
What is bruxism
As we have seen, bruxism consists of the involuntary act of grinding or rubbing the teeth in a chronic and repeated way, especially while sleeping. This feature means that the pathology has been included among the sleep disorders. However, a form of bruxism also occurs while awake, a phenomenon known as daytime bruxism and much more frequent.
Sleep bruxism is very common at a young age. Specifically, it is children and adolescents who are most susceptible to this disorder. Still, it is always very difficult to estimate how many people suffer from it, as the diagnosis is very complicated.
Bruxism: symptoms and diagnosis
Despite having very clear symptoms, it is not easy to diagnose bruxism, because often the people who suffer from it do not notice it. A sleeping person cannot realize that they are grinding their teeth and risks causing irreversible damage to the teeth and jaw. People who sleep next to those with bruxism often notice the problem, but only in cases where the grinding is loud and annoying. In some cases, the disorder is only detected during a dental visit, as the dentist can identify the abrasion of the teeth caused by bruxism.
The main symptoms of bruxism can therefore be summarized in the following list:
- Intense pain in the jaw
- Soreness of the chewing muscles
- Increased sensitivity of the teeth due to the loss of the enamel layer
- Injuries to one or more teeth
- Dry mouth
- Migraines and general head pains.
In addition to the dentist, to accurately diagnose nocturnal bruxism, it may be helpful to perform a specific examination such as polysomnography, which can detect all sleep disorders. A rather accurate diagnosis of this pathology can also be made through electromyography of the masticatory muscles.
The causes of bruxism
The causes of bruxism are not always known, especially because there is no single triggering cause, but the concomitance of several factors often favors the disorder.
Among these, stress, nervousness, and anxiety play a predominant role regarding daytime and nighttime bruxism. The psychological component can also be considered fundamental in the onset of the pathology; some emotional disturbances cause anxiety and nervousness and, therefore, favor teeth grinding.
Disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea seem to correlate with bruxism since teeth grinding is often preceded by an increase in brain and cardiovascular activity. In addition, some researchers have also found a genetic component in the onset of bruxism; about half of the people who suffer from it have someone in the family who suffers from it.
Other causes of bruxism are dental malocclusions, some neurodegenerative diseases, the consumption of alcohol, the smoke from cigarettes, and the intake of caffeine and drugs.
What are the consequences of sleep bruxism?
In addition to the annoyance for those who are forced to sleep in the same room as a person suffering from bruxism, there can also be unpleasant consequences for the bruxist himself.
The damage to the teeth is the most common and visible. Continuous grinding of the teeth causes the erosion of the enamel, which becomes thinner and thinner. In addition, teeth can crack or chip, and any dental work such as fillings, veneers, or bridges can “skip”, to name a few.
Bruxism also causes joint problems, as the constant grinding of the teeth also stresses the jaw joints, causing headaches and neck pain.
Bruxism therapy and treatment
Since it is not a real disease, there is no real cure for bruxism because the cause of the problem is usually treated. And, in any case, any therapy is never completely conclusive. Each case is treated individually, and, if possible, it is important that several specialists, including doctors with experience in sleep disorders, neurologists, dentists, evaluate the therapy to be adopted.
Usually, the first intervention served to safeguard the health of the teeth and the chewing system. To do this, a bite is worn, a special custom-made transparent resin mouthguard that, worn during sleep, prevents contact between the two dental arches when grinding the teeth. The splint must have an adequate thickness to avoid causing damage to the jaw and posture.
If, on the other hand, the bruxism is caused by malocclusion or a malformation, the dentist’s intervention is usually necessary.
Since bruxism is also closely related to situations of anxiety and stress, to try to solve the problem, it can be useful to resort to practices such as meditation, yoga, massage, or breathing exercises. In cases where the emotional sphere of the patient is also involved, it becomes necessary to consult a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychotherapist.
In general, drug therapy is not particularly effective in treating bruxism, especially because some drugs have side effects that make prolonged use of the drug complicated.
How to prevent bruxism
Although bruxism sometimes occurs at an early age, it is possible to take some measures to prevent the appearance of the disorder or otherwise alleviate its symptoms. Among these, the main ones are:
- Management of anxiety
- Physical activity
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol and exciting drinks
- Sleeping in a comfortable environment
- Periodic and regular checks
Stress is one of the first triggers, so it can be essential to reduce anxiety and learn how to manage it through relaxation techniques, listening to classical music, or practicing meditation. Even a regular light exercise helps eliminate stress and download all the tensions accumulated during the day. Reducing alcohol consumption and exciting drinks, especially in the evening, can promote more peaceful sleep. For good sleep hygiene, it can be useful to sleep in a calm and comfortable environment without strong lights, electronic devices, and TVs.
Taking a warm bath before going to bed, even for children, is a good way to promote a night of peaceful sleep.
Finally, it is also useful to have regular checks by the dentist or to perform the polysomnographic examination to identify the disorder and any problems related to malocclusion of the teeth.