If you find yourself waking up in the morning with a sore jaw, headache or painful teeth, chances are you're suffering from a common medical condition called bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding or jaw clenching. You might notice that your condition worsens during times of stress and anxiety but it can also be a side effect of medications such as antidepressants. Our bruxism expert is here to discuss the 5 things to do to stop grinding your teeth.
1. Lifestyle changes
Since bruxism is often exacerbated by increased stress and anxiety, the first thing to try is to introduce some lifestyle changes. Naturally, stress is an unavoidable part of life but there are things we can all do to try and limit its effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Meditation and breathing exercises are some of the easiest things to try to relieve stress and tension. Having good sleep hygiene is also important as irregular sleeping patterns can aggravate anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy, is a form of psychotherapy, aimed at improving emotional regulation and helping one develop personal coping strategies. If anxiety is something you are a struggling with but you are not ready to turn to medications, cognitive behavioural therapy might be worth looking into as it has been shown by some studies to be as effective as medication in the treatment of less severe forms of anxiety and depression.
2. Night guard
Jaw clenching and teeth grinding is caused by an overactivity of the muscles of mastication i.e. muscles used in chewing, most commonly the masseter muscle and the temporalis muscles. Night guards or occlusal splits are special moulds, made individually for each patient, from either a soft or hard sillicone-like material. When worn during the night, they have been shown to promote muscle relaxation and reduced stress on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This in turn helps to relief the feeling of tension in the muscles, reduces the occurence and intensity of the associate headaches and alleviates teeth sensitivity. Moreover, wearing a night guard also protects against the known side effects of teeth grinding, namely the progressive destruction of teeth and dental restorations such as implants, crowns and bridgework.
The last use of occlusal splints is in diagnosis of bruxism. Some people are not aware of clenching and grinding during sleep, so in these patients, the night guard is used as a diagnostic tool. When someone with bruxism wears a night guard, they will gradually start to bite through the material. Dentist look for signs of wear on the guard to confirm that the patient does in fact have the condition and can better assess which teeth or restorations are more at risk.
Although many think of Botox as a beautifying treatment, it is actually a medication. Botox is just one brand name of botulinum toxin. What this toxin does is when injected directly into a muscle, it temporarily paralyses. We can control the extent of this paralysis by carefully modifying the dose. Since in bruxism we see an overactivity of the muscles of mastication, what we can do is to strategically inject the masseter muscles located just above the angle of the jaw, to weaken its contractions. On top of reducing muscle tension and all the negative effects of clenching and grinding, masseter botulinum toxin injections can also improve the jaw aesthetic. Bruxism patients often develop hypertrophy of the masseter muscles meaning that they become bulkier and make the lower face look more square. When the muscle is paralysed, it gradually decreases in size making the lower face look slimmer which is a desirable outcome for some people.
4. Orthodontic treatment
Malocclusion refers to an incorrect relation between the upper and lower teeth. If teeth are misaligned it can be difficult for one to find a comfortable resting position and this can result in muscle tension. If your bruxism is a result of malocclusion, orthodontic treatment might be the only solution to bring longterm relief as it will treat the cause and not just the symptoms. Nowadays, orthodontic treatment does not have not involve unsightly metal braces. Systems such as DamonClear® braces, Invisalign® and ClearCorrect® aligners have made it possible to straighten teeth comfortably and discreetly.
If bruxism in your case is stress-related, your doctor or dentist might offer to prescribe you anxiety relieving medication. Some of them, like benzodiazepines, also have a muscle relaxing action so they help to control the cause of bruxism and its mechanism i.e. overt muscle tension.
To conclude, if you know that you are clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, or if you notice that you regularly wake up with a sore jaw, sensitive teeth or a headache, considering introducing the following possible solutions:
Stress-reducing lifestyle changes such as meditation, breathing exercises and improved bedtime hygiene
Having a night guard made by your dentist
Botox injections to reduce muscle tension
Orthodontic treatment if your symptoms are caused by malocclusion