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Bruxism refers to an oral habitual activity which occurs in most people at some point in their lives.  The clenching of the jaw and the grinding of the teeth are the two main characteristics of this condition, which can occur either during the night or day.

Bruxism is a common sleep disorder and causes most of its damage during night time hours.  The grinding and clenching which accompanies bruxism is characteristic of a faulty chewing reflex, which is switched off in non-sufferers when sleeping.  For sufferers, naps or even deep sleep, cause the reflex nerve mind center in the brain to turn off, and the reflex path to become active.

Typically, the canines and incisors (front 6 upper and lower teeth) of opposing arches grind against each other side to side. This lateral action puts much strain on the temporomandibular joint and medial pterygoid muscles. Depression, earaches, anxiety, depression, and headaches are amongst the most normal results of bruxism; which often accompanies Alzheimer’s disease, alcohol abuse, and chronic stress.

Bruxism is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, because it is only one of several possible causes of tooth abrasion. Only a trained professional can tell the difference between bruxing wear and wear caused by acidic soft drinks, abrasive foods, and overly aggressive brushing.

Why treat bruxism?

Here are some of the common reasons:

Occlusal trauma - The abnormal wear patterns on the chewing (occlusal) surfaces can lead to fractures in the teeth, which can require dental restorations.

  • Gum recession and tooth loss – Bruxism is one of the common causes of gum recession and tooth loss; Firstly, because it damages the soft tissue directly, and secondly because it leads to deep pockets where bacteria can grow and erode the supporting bone and can lead to tooth loss.
  • Myofacial pain - The grinding associated with bruxism can eventually blunt and shorten the teeth. This can lead to debilitating headaches and muscle discomfort in the myofascial area.
  • Arthritis – In chronic and severe cases, bruxing can sometimes lead to acute arthritis in the temporomandibular (TMJ) joints (the joints that permit the jaw to open smoothly).

How do we treat bruxism?

There is no simple cure for bruxism, though a variety of helpful devices and tools are available. The most common treatment for bruxism is:

  • Mouthguards (Night Guards) - An acrylic appliance can be designed from tooth impressions to slow down the grinding action of tooth surfaces during normal sleep.  Mouthguards should be worn consistently to help prevent tooth wear, damage to the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and assist to stabilize the relationship of teeth.

Other methods of treatment include stress management education, biofeedback mechanics, and relaxation exercises.  When the bruxing is under control, there are a variety of dental procedures such as gum grafts, crowns, and crown lengthening that can restore a pleasant, beautiful look to the smile.

If you have concerns or questions about bruxism, please consult with Dr. Braithwaite or a member of his staff.