By: Dr. James White
The habit of bruxism can be as devious as a thief in the night. You may not even be aware you're doing it, but if you suffer from this condition, the resulting damage to your teeth, gums and jawbone will soon let you know.
The practice of unconscious tooth-grinding usually begins in early childhood. In most cases, the habit will begin to wane as the person ages, but while it continues, it can extract a serious price on dental health.
Its rhythmic jaw contractions and sustained periods of grinding can subject the teeth to as much as 250 pounds of pressure for up to 40 minutes out of every hour all night long. Since you're asleep, it will happen without your knowledge, but you can be sure that your partner will hear it.
Bruxism's Toll on Your Dental Health: Over the years, this amount of stress on the teeth, gums and jaws can result in serious damage. Sufferers often experience: worn front teeth, broken fillings, cracked enamel, receding gums, periodontal disease, headaches, jaw pain and even temporomandibular joint disorder.
The Causes of Bruxism: While some cases of bruxism occur apart from any specific cause, others have their basis in a known physical, environmental or psychiatric disorder. Some of these common secondary instigators may include prescription and over-the-counter medications; depression, anxiety, tension, anger or frustration; the heavy use of caffeine, tobacco and alcohol and even epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other medical conditions.
Help for Bruxism Sufferers: Because it happens so often during sleep, a person can't do much to stop it while it is taking place. However, there are some things you can do about it while you are awake.
For example, if stress is at the root of the problem, you could try such tension-relievers as yoga, physical therapy, jogging, dancing and aerobic exercise. A prescription muscle relaxant could do the trick and stress counseling might be another option.
If an existing sleep disorder is at the root of your troubles, its treatment can alleviate the problem. In addition, holding a warm towel or washcloth along the jawline before going to sleep can help to relax the muscles and may lessen the tendency to grind the teeth after you fall asleep.
What Your Dentist Can Do: If you are in the habit of grinding or clenching your teeth either at night or during the day, it's time to have a word with your dentist. A bruxism evaluation can determine the extent to which the habit has damaged your teeth, jaw and gums.
Your dentist can also provide a mouth guard or splint that fits over your teeth and prevents them from making contact. If you are in the habit of grinding your teeth, it's important to do whatever you can to alleviate or entirely correct the situation. Don't let the damage get any worse.
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