Habitually grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw may produce side effects such as headaches, facial pain, receding gums, or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, which can cause multiple health issues. You may engage in this innocuous nervous habit without even realizing it, as many people clench and grind while sleeping and would be oblivious about the fact that they do so unless a partner or spouse mentions it.
Teeth grinding and jaw clenching is a medical condition that is known as bruxism. Although often related to anxiety or stress, there are some causes and medical problems it is associated with, such as dementia. Jaw clenching and teeth grinding don’t typically lead to severe symptoms and complications, but in order to treat it, you need to determine and deal with what could be causing it.
Besides dementia, certain medications can cause an increase in the risk of bruxism, and in such cases, a change in prescription might be the best solution to resolve the condition.
For other people, managing the problem may require more help, like having a mouth guard on while sleeping, or adopting measures to relieve stress as people usually grind their teeth when they face pressure or are nervous.
What Are the Symptoms of Bruxism?
Teeth grinding does not always produce symptoms; however, some people experience headaches and facial pain, and it can lead to wearing down of the teeth over time. Here is a list of the symptoms of bruxism:
- facial pain
- disrupted sleep (either for you or your spouse)
- pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (Temporomandibular Joint) as well as surrounding muscles, leading to Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)
- broken teeth or broken fillings
- worn-down teeth that can lead to increased sensitivity and/or tooth loss
The headaches and facial pain often disappear once you stop teeth grinding. Typically, tooth damage is experienced in severe cases only and could require treatment.
How to Treat and Manage Teeth Grinding
The most crucial aspect of treatment is figuring out what is causing the teeth grinding, and then targeting your management steps or treatment procedure, based on the cause, whether it’s bruxism in dementia or any other form of bruxism.
If your bruxism is bringing about pain, you can take the following steps at home to alleviate the pain:
- Drink lots of fluids, preferably water.
- Avoid chewing gum as this could worsen the pain
- If you notice that your jaw is sore, try applying ice or wet heat.
- Avoid eating or sucking hard candies, steak, nuts, and other foods which are difficult to chew.
- Relax your face throughout the day. You can also try self-massage; feel for small, painful nodules that are known as trigger points, which can produce pain throughout your head as well as your face, and massage them.
- Get a lot of sleep.
- If you have a tendency to grind in your sleep, stay away from foods or beverages containing caffeine before going to bed. Also, drinking alcohol and smoking in the evening can make bruxism worse.
- Consider managing stress. Do everything in your power to reduce your stress, as it worsens bruxism. Take a walk, enjoy a bubble bath, or listen to your favorite music. You can also learn relaxation exercises such as meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing.
- Try to change your behavior. You can consult your dentist to learn methods for practicing proper mouth and jaw positioning.
Besides dementia, snoring or having a sleep disorder, like obstructive sleep apnea (also called OSA), makes it more likely that you would grind your teeth in sleep. The most common solution for sleep bruxism is wearing night guards or mouth splints. Other options also include sleep hygiene and muscle-relaxation exercises.
Treating Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding in dementia can be treated in several ways. If you are a night grinder, a mouth splint — also known as a mouth guard or an appliance — can be used in treating the condition. Some splints fit over your top teeth, while others fit over your bottom teeth. For instance, one such mouth guard, known as the NTI-TSS, fits over only your front teeth to ensure that the back teeth (molars) are completely separated. This idea is based on the theory which postulates that most clenching occurs on these back teeth. With such an appliance, the only contact takes place between a bottom front tooth and the splint. In studies, the NTI-TSS guard has been described as helpful in preventing bruxism.
A mouth guard may be designed for keeping the jaw in a more relaxed position or for providing other specific functions. Furthermore, mouth splints help reduce pain and safeguard your teeth from tooth wear. They also protect the teeth against further damage.
If you have extreme anxiety or stress, we recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
When dementia, chronic anxiety or stress is what drives you to grind and gnash your teeth, it is advised that you seek the professional help of a counselor or a therapist. Once you have addressed the underlying issues causing you the emotional distress, you may discover that your bruxism has abated immensely.
If other measures you have taken fail to help you break the habit of teeth grinding, you may try biofeedback, which is a technique that makes use of monitoring equipment and procedures to teach you to gain control of the muscle activity in your jaw. With these tips and measures, you will find it easier to manage your bruxism.