Many people reflexively grind their teeth from time to time. Occasionally clenching your jaw doesn’t usually cause problems, but frequent gnashing can harm your teeth, jaw muscles, and temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which connect each side of your jaw to your skull.
Frequent, unconscious teeth grinding — a common problem called bruxism — can happen when you’re asleep, awake, or both. It’s important to detect bruxism early, before it leads to chronic pain or causes serious oral health complications.
At Smiles in Springfield, Dr. Quang Tran is specially trained to spot the early signs of bruxism during routine dental exams. He’s also an expert in treating the problem and its complications, including worn-down teeth and TMJ pain and dysfunction. Here’s what you should know.
Bruxism, or involuntary teeth grinding, is a common problem that affects an estimated 10% of adults and 15% of children in the United States. While it’s often an effect of unmanaged stress or anxiety, it can also be triggered by a sleep disorder, antidepressant medications, or certain lifestyle habits, including alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and excessive caffeine intake.
Bruxism is categorized as two separate conditions depending on when it occurs:
With this form of the condition, you clench your jaw and grind your teeth during the day. It’s usually a product of intense focus or persistent emotional issues like stress, anxiety, or anger. Awake bruxism rarely progresses to the point of requiring treatment, mostly because you’re more likely to notice it and develop coping mechanisms to stop.
This type of bruxism happens at night, while you sleep. It tends to be more harmful because it usually goes unnoticed; in most cases, people who grind their teeth at night are completely unaware they’re doing it. Given that constant clenching and grinding can place your jaws and teeth under 250 pounds of force for hours on end, asleep bruxism can be very problematic for your oral health.
Most people affected by nighttime teeth grinding are unaware of their problem until they visit the dentist. While they may notice certain telltale warning signs — like waking up with jaw pain, headaches, or earaches — such symptoms can be easy to overlook, ignore, or dismiss.
Signs and symptoms of nighttime grinding vary from one person to the next. Dental issues commonly associated with bruxism include:
People with nighttime bruxism may also experience:
If you experience any of these problems, schedule a visit with Dr. Tran. Likewise, if you catch yourself clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth during the day, Dr. Tran can check for signs of dental wear or damage and provide strategies to help you stop gnashing your teeth when you’re focusing, stressed, or feeling emotional.
Whenever Dr. Tran notices dental issues that could be related to chronic teeth grinding, he conducts a more thorough evaluation to get to the bottom of the problem, check for advanced damage, and look for bruxism-related complications. Without treatment, bruxism can lead to:
Untreated bruxism is also a common starting point for persistent TMJ pain and dysfunction. Left untreated, it can set the stage for a full-blown temporomandibular disorder (TMD) that restricts jaw movement, makes eating difficult, and gives rise to ongoing jaw, neck, ear, and head pain.
For as complicated as bruxism can get, it’s also highly treatable. But like any progressive oral health problem, the earlier you address teeth grinding, the better. If you’re affected by awake bruxism, Dr. Tran may recommend lifestyle changes to support a more relaxed jaw, as well as teach you strategies that help you actively rest your tongue, teeth, and lips.
If you’re diagnosed with asleep bruxism, Dr. Tran prescribes a custom night guard for you to wear at night. Wearing a night guard prevents contact between your upper and lower teeth, and gently repositions your jaw to keep it relaxed and stable. If you have significant jaw pain, you may also require additional TMJ treatment.
Once your bruxism is under control, Dr. Tran may recommend replacing lost teeth with a dental implant or bridge, or restoring any damaged teeth with dental bonding or a crown.
If you’ve caught yourself clenching your jaw during the day — or you’re worried you may be grinding your teeth at night — we can help. Call 703-595-2403 to schedule your next dental exam at Smiles in Springfield in Springfield, Virginia today.