Avoid The Grind: What You Need to Know About Bruxism

Baristas grind coffee beans. Butchers grind beef. Motivated students put their noses to the grindstone. What we don’t want to grind is our teeth. For patients looking for family dental care in East Portland, Dr. Joy Arend is the premiere dentist in the Portland metropolitan area for children and adults who grind their teeth.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, involves movement of the jaw (consciously or unconsciously) while the teeth are clenched together. Bruxism can occur while awake or asleep. Awake bruxism may be a conscious or unconscious coping or concentration mechanism. Most often, during episodes of awake bruxism, people are unaware that they are grinding their teeth, and a nudge from an observer may be all that’s required to correct the behavior. Bruxism, however, more commonly occurs during sleep, which means most patients remain unaware of the problem unless informed of their habit by a bed partner.

What is eventually noticeable to those who grind their teeth is that their tooth enamel will appear worn, and their teeth may become flattened, chipped, or loose. Additionally, the jaw joints may pop or click, and jaw muscles may become visibly enlarged. People with sleep bruxism may wake to pain, fatigue, or stiffness in the jaw. They may suffer headaches, earaches, or toothaches. If you or your child shows signs or symptoms of bruxism, our team at East Portland Dentistry are available to diagnose and treat this common problem.

Understanding Bruxism

First, let’s establish that bruxism generally decreases with age; the highest prevalence occurs during childhood, and the lowest occurs in people over 65. It’s common for children to grind their teeth. In most cases, bruxism is not a damaging habit that requires treatment, and most children outgrow it by adolescence.

Because children’s teeth and jaws change and grow quickly, adverse effects of childhood bruxism may not extend to adulthood. Moreover, the percentage of adults who regularly grind their teeth and subsequently suffer significant problems is small. However, severe bruxism is concerning: it can damage teeth, crowns, and restorations; it can also lead to jaw disorders. That’s why Dr. Joy Arend recommends scheduling an appointment at East Portland Dentistry to discuss any concerns you may have about bruxism.

What Causes Bruxism?

Unfortunately, the exact cause of bruxism is unknown. While children commonly grind their teeth due to allergies, misaligned teeth, or irritation in the mouth, the causes tend to be more complex in adults. Below, we outline factors that are often associated with adult bruxism:

  • Abnormal bite
  • Crooked or missing teeth
  • Stress, anxiety, or tension
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (Please see our blog history for additional information.)
  • Snoring (often related to obstructive sleep apnea)
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Use of certain amphetamines and antidepressant medications.

At East Portland Dentistry, we want our patients to be aware of a 2016 study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association which revealed that alcohol drinkers and tobacco smokers are approximately twice as likely to grind their teeth as those who do not drink or smoke.

If you exhibit signs of bruxism, the dental team at East Portland Dentistry will address possible causes. Sharing your medical history with your dentist is essential because it allows your dentist to guide you toward holistic health and to determine if the underlying cause of bruxism points to an associated medical condition.

Diagnosing Bruxism

To diagnose bruxism, Dr. Arend will examine your teeth and mouth, checking for tenderness in your jaw muscles, fractured or loose teeth, and the condition of the underlying bone. Evaluating the extent of bruxism and determining if the problem is progressive is necessary prior to recommending dental treatment or to referring patients to a medical doctor. Over the course of several visits, Dr. Arend will note changes in your teeth and mouth.

If you frequently or regularly experience jaw discomfort, headache, fatigue, or tooth sensitivity upon awakening, share this history with Dr. Arend as it may help point to a diagnosis of sleep bruxism. So as to reveal a pattern, Dr. Arend may ask you to chart and rate your daily symptoms. She will consider your notations along with the clinical examination in diagnosing sleep bruxism.

Treating Bruxism

Dental treatment for bruxism depends on the severity of the condition and the extent of damage to the teeth and jaw. To repair heavily worn teeth, reshaping the teeth’s chewing surfaces or inserting crowns may be necessary.

To preserve your teeth and to help prevent damage, the team at East Portland Dentistry may recommend a splint or bite guard. Generally, these devices are used for sleep bruxism and are appropriate for both children and adults. Splints and bite guards are fashioned from either soft materials or hard acrylic.

At East Portland Dentistry, Dr. Arend will custom design a device that fits over either the upper or lower teeth and covers all the teeth in the arch. Splints and bite guards keep teeth separated, thus preventing damage inflicted by grinding and clenching. They can reduce or eliminate jaw pain and dysfunction associated with bruxism. Note, however, that the devices do not necessarily stop bruxism.

Stopping or lessening bruxism often involves behavioral change or addressing the underlying cause(s). Behavioral change may include the following:

  • Practicing proper positioning of the mouth and jaw (East Portland Dentistry staff can model this for you)
  • Reducing stress (meditation, yoga, exercise)
  • Managing anxiety
  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, especially at night
  • Using biofeedback to teach muscle control (monitoring procedures and equipment).

Addressing the potential underlying cause(s) of bruxism may involve the following:

  • Undergoing a sleep study if obstructive sleep apnea is suspected and following medical protocol if diagnosed
  • Discussing side effects of prescription medication with your doctor
  • Correcting abnormal bite or missing teeth.

If You Need Family Dental Care in East Portland, Dr. Arend is Here to Help

The dental team at East Portland Dentistry is committed to ensuring that our patients have no ax to grind with us! We treat bruxism as a holistic health issue and, whenever necessary, we will work in tandem with your medical doctor in order to best remedy bruxism. As always, we recommend regular dental visits because clinical examination can detect early signs of bruxism.

Let’s leave grinding to baristas, butchers, and ‘B’ students who really want the ‘A’.