Bruxing, or grinding your teeth, is one of those quiet health disorders which doesn't hurt, is completely invisible, and doesn't require hospital care. Often, afflicted individuals do not even realise they do it. Initially, the condition may even be more disturbing to their partners. Most bruxers are night time teeth grinders. The grinding noises can keep lightly sleeping roommates awake. Eventually, however, it is the bruxer who is left with the long-term effects of nightly grinding. Bruxing can cause bone loss and loosening of the teeth. Typically, people who brux also have a greater incidence of gum disease.
Signs of bruxing
In addition to the sounds of night time grinding, other signals of bruxing include:
- Tired jaw muscles upon awakening and the morning
- 'Locking' of the jaw and a tendency to bite the cheeks, lips, or tongue
- Tenderness of the jaw muscles of the jaw joints
- Cheek muscles which are larger, or more developed, on one sided than the other
- Broken or chipped teeth or fillings
- Teeth which have notches or indentations at the gum line
- Gum recession and sensitive teeth
- Teeth which seem shortened or worn down
Why Do People Brux?
Bruxing has been around for a long time. Many skulls of cavemen exhibit short, flat teeth. Some ground their teeth away altogether! This was due to a combination of diet, poor hygiene, and bruxing. Over the years, our diet and hygiene have improved. Bruxing, however, has not. It is estimated that over 50% of the population are night time grinders. Men, women, and children are all equally afflicted.
Bruxing is thought to result from a combination of emotional tension and a bad to bite. Clinching the teeth is associated with anger in both humans and animals. People learn to suppress their emotions by keeping their teeth together. This can become an unconscious habit. You may learn to keep your teeth together all the time as a response to tension without realising you're doing so.
'Lips Together, Teeth Apart'
Many people do not know that most of the time, the upper and lower teeth should not touch. Except when chewing, swallowing, or talking, the teeth and jaws should be in a rest position. By rest position we mean 'lips together, teeth apart'.
A Bad Bite
A bad to bite is another contributing factor to bruxing. If the teeth do not meet properly, or if one tooth hits before the others, the chewing muscles will become protective. Rather than bumping into that tooth each time they close the jaw, the chewing muscles will manoeuvre around the interference. You wouldn't intentionally drive your car over a pile of glass in the road - you would swerve to miss it, then resume your course. Likewise, the chewing muscles will learn to bring the jaw around the high spot each time the teeth close. This places extra strain on the muscles and eventually they become tired and painful.
To reduce the pain, we do a peculiar thing - we clench harder! Technically this is called pressure anaesthesia. Babies do this by biting against a teething ring to decrease the pain of erupting teeth. Or, as adults, we may press on our temples to decrease the pain of a headache. When our teeth stay constantly clenched, however, it worsens the condition. The teeth and jaws become more misaligned, which increases the clenching.
Bruxing is thus a teeth clenching and grinding habit which comes from a combination of emotional tension and a bad bite. To treat it, the dentist must eliminate interferences and correct the bite so that the chewing muscles can function without undue strain and tension. Often, a removable device (known as an orthotic, or 'splint') is fitted over the upper or lower teeth to protect them from further damage and to temporarily correct the bite.
Relaxation therapy can also be an important aspect of treatment to explore new ways of coping with stress. Biofeedback is a particular technique which teaches you to break your clenching habit and relax the muscles of the face. In some cases, more in-depth counselling may be in order to discover the sources of stress or discuss lifestyle changes.
The most dangerous aspect of bruxing is that most people do not realise they do it! Take time to understand your teeth.