Against the Grind Image

17 SEPTEMBER 2018

Against the Grind

Ever wondered why your jaw feels sore when you wake up? Or why you can’t seem to shake that morning tension headache? Clenching, gritting and grinding your teeth can be an indication of emotional stress, amongst other things, and it can do serious damage. Here’s what you need to know to get on top of a jaw that works overtime.

There’s no denying daily life comes with plenty of stressors. Think: juggling children with workloads, dealing with health issues, financial worries, keeping your relationships in balance, not to mention addiction to technology which sees us become slaves to email round the clock. So it’s no wonder that teeth grinding or ‘Bruxism’, commonly associated with stress – among other things – affects roughly 20 per cent of the adult population. It’s possible you’re a ‘Bruxer’ and you don’t even know it, dreaming away as your nightly jaw habit wreaks havoc on your teeth and gums.

Why does it happen?
Bruxism is actually a relatively complex issue. The reasons why it occurs are varied and still not fully understood. It can happen while awake or asleep. Some of the causes include anxiety, stress and sleep disorders such as apnoea, illness, poor posture and the effects of smoking, alcohol or drug use as well as teeth misalignment or abnormal anatomy of teeth or jaws – and that’s just for starters. There’s a smorgasbord of teeth-clenching triggers.

How will I know if I have it?
Defined as a habit, many teeth grinders do so without even realising. But people who suffer from bruxism are three to four times more likely to experience jaw pain, chewing fatigue and limited jaw movement than those who don’t. Other indicators include suffering from regular headaches or migraines, earaches or clicking jaws, neck or back pain and an increase in the size of the jaw muscles (which with every clench and grind are getting an extraordinarily robust workout). It can also do serious damage to the inside of your mouth, causing receding gums, tooth fractures and even loose or broken teeth. It’s not so surprising when you consider this: standard chewing exerts up to around 18 kilos of pressure on the teeth. In fact, the pressure from grinding can be 115 kilos or more.

Check-in with yourself
If you identify with any of the below questions you could be a bruxist. Ask your dentist for more information on helping you with your clenching concerns. 

  • Do you have pain or stiffness around the head, neck, shoulders, arms, or jaw? Is this pain worse in the morning?
  • Do you suffer with ear ache or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)?
  • Do you clench your teeth at night or have been told by your partner they hear you grind during the night?
  • Do you wake up with your teeth clenched?
  • Do you grind or clench your teeth during the day?
  • Do you regularly get headaches or migraines?
  • Do you experience difficulty when opening your mouth?
  • Do you hear any clicking, popping or creaking noises from your jaw joints, especially when chewing or yawning?
  • Do you have any worn, chipped or cracked teeth?
  • Have you noticed any wearing down of your front teeth?

What can I do about it?
Often, the first that Bruxers hear about their condition is when they visit the dentist. While there isn’t a universal fix, the good news is that there are a variety of treatment options designed to lessen the cause and prevent damage to your teeth, gums, jaw joints and soft tissues of the mouth.

The most common initial treatment option for bruxism is the use of a specialised protective mouthguard known as an occlusal splint, custom made from a mould taken of your teeth. Wearing the mouthguard lessens the pressure you place on your teeth while grinding, in turn, preventing the damage you may otherwise cause to your precious pearly whites and their surrounds.

If significant damage has occurred to your teeth, your dentist may suggest a treatment plan for repair, which may include root canal therapy, fillings or crowns. Dealing with the psychological causes of Bruxism, through the use of therapy, stress management or relaxation techniques such as meditation, can also be beneficial.

Am I OK? Are you?
It’s a very important question. Bruxism is significantly related to a variety of mental disorders and nearly 70% of bruxism occurs as a result of stress or anxiety. It’s essential to regularly check in with yourself and your mental health – as well as reaching out to others. Staying connected and having meaningful discussions is key to managing the onslaught of stress and anxiety that modern life can feed us. It’s not surprising so many of us are jaw clenchers – but knowing how to get – and give – support, makes the pressure a whole lot easier to take.

If you think you may have bruxism, or any of the associated symptoms, visit pacificsmilesdental.com.au to make an appointment today. With numerous locations offering a comprehensive range of services, you’ll find the exceptional care and expertise you deserve. For more information on R U OK and mental health support, visit ruok.org.au.