Bruxism includes clenching and grinding your teeth. Both clenching and grinding are called parafunctional because you are using your teeth for something other than their primary purpose of chewing. This places a lot of pressure on the jaw joints which can then lead to clicking noises or pain in your jaw, your head, and/or your neck. In addition to an aching jaw, your teeth can loosen up and you can even break your teeth!
Normal chewing places 68 pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) of pressure on your back teeth (molars). Deliberately clenching your teeth causes 150 PSI of pressure. Unconscious grinding at night can be up to 900 PSI.
Some people grind up to 40 minutes during every hour (60 minutes) of sleep. (Humans aren’t the only ones who grind their teeth. Pigs grind their teeth when they’re bored and cats grind their teeth when they’re dehydrated.)
Many people who brux have trouble with their temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Sometimes this TMJ trouble is called TemproMandibular Dysfunction (TMD). Many people with TMD have heightened pain sensitivity. They may have genetics that may increase their stress response and inflammatory response. This may be why TMD is often associated with fibromyalgia, headaches and chronic back pain.
How do you know if you’re a bruxer? Some Signs are:
- Sensitivity to hot and cold
- Damaged teeth and restorations
- Scarred tongue and cheeks
- Problems with your gums
- Jaw noises or pain
What can you do if you think (or know) you are a bruxer? First, see your dentist, especially if you have sharp pain in your tooth or your jaw. Those symptoms may indicate a cavity, cracked tooth, or problem with your TMJ.
Other things you can try:
- Dental night guards may help prevent or reduce grinding and clenching. The mouth guard helps keep your teeth from wearing down too. The best ones are ones custom-made for you by your dentist. They will fit better than ones you can buy off the shelf.
- Hot and cold compresses can be used to ease pain.
- NSAIDS like Ibuprofen and Aleve can reduce inflammation
- Stress management—start at your feet and tense each muscle group for 7-10 seconds then release and rest for 15 seconds before moving to the next muscle group. (Skip any groups that hurt.)
- If you catch yourself clenching or grinding during the day, open your jaws and put the tip of your tongue between your teeth—this may train your jaw muscles to relax.
- Don’t chew gum, pencils or anything else that’s not food. Unnecessary chomping keeps jaw muscles accustomed to clenching and makes you more likely to do so while you’re sleeping.
- Cut back on drinks and foods that contain caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate). Caffeine can heighten muscle tension.
- At bedtime, soak 2 washclothes in hot water, wring them out, and hold them just in front of your earlobes. Repeat as often as needed to relax your jaw muscles for 20 min.
- Stress busters such as hot baths, massages, exercise, meditation, and yoga may also help.
*Note: Information in this article is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.
1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053