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Bruxism is on the Rise - Is Stress Grinding your Teeth Away?

Updated on February 22, 2011

Do you thnk the recession is only hurting your pocketbook and lifestyle? If you wake up with jaw pain or tooth pain, you may have bruxism. Bruxism is a relatively common, stress-related dental condition where people clench their jaws and or grind their teeth unconsciouly at night. . It is found in 5% to 15% of the population with almost 50% of the cases in children, and it is on the rise. Many people are not even aware they have bruxism until they develop jaw pain, toothaches, or a mate complains about the grinding awakening them at night.

A Case of Bruxism

Although bruxism commonly is a subconscious, stress-related habit, some people are troubled with bruxism during the day too. Reprinted from
Although bruxism commonly is a subconscious, stress-related habit, some people are troubled with bruxism during the day too. Reprinted from

Cause of Bruxism

Although dentists don't completely understand what causes bruxism, they suspect it may be caused by stress-related or emotional problems. In fact, during this latest recession, dentists have seen an increasing number of patients suffering from mouth or jaw pain and headaches caused by bruxism. At Yann Maidment's dental surgery practice in Edinburgh, he has seen an increase in cases of bruxism by 10% to 20% over the past 18 months. In addition to Yann Maidment's dental surgery practice, the Chicago Dental Society claims 65% of its members report an increase in jaw clenching and teeth grinding.

Other causes may be suppressed anger or frustraton, a type A personality, malocclusions, complicatons from other diseases like Parkinson's or Hunnington's disease, and side-effects of certain antidepressants. In children, it may also be caused by the development of the jaw and teeth, and a response to an earache.

Antidepressants which may cause bruxism and associated headaches are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The names of some common SSRIs are Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil among others. However, researchers have found that Buspar or Buspirone, a drug used to treat anxiety, can treat these side effects. Apparently, since Buspar may act like dopamine, it may cause the jaw muscles to become less tense by bringing the serotonin levels back down in certain areas of the brain. One function of dopamine is to control muscular activity.

Symptoms of Bruxism

The most common symptoms of bruxism are:

  • Awakening partner with teeth grinding
  • Headaches
  • Facial or jaw pain
  • Tooth wear or fractured teeth and fillings
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Loose teeth
  • Gum damage
  • Earaches

Damage Caused by Bruxism

Bruxism can cause serious dental damage. When people clench their jaws, it can put as much as 250 pounds of force per square inch on the teeth. Of the two reflexes, jaw clenching and teeth grinding, teeth grinding is more common during sleep. Regardless of whether you clench your jaw, grind your teeth, or both, these activities occur most commonly during sleep interruptions throughout the night. It appears to be even more exaggerated in people with airway resistance. In some cases, jaw clenching can be similar to the pressure it takes to crack a walnut. Not only can this kind of pressure crack the teeth, it can:

  • Crack teeth - The pressure of clenching the jaw at night can be as much as 250 pounds of force per square inch. This is similar to the pressure it take to crack a walnut.
  • Wear away the enamel - While enamel normally wears away at a rate of 0.3 milimeters every ten years, the enamel of people with bruxism can experience 0.2 mlimeters of eroision by the mid twenties. As the enamel and molar cusps wear away and the softer dentin below is exposed, chewing is more difficult, and the teeth are more prone to decay.
  • As the teeth wear away, bruxism can age you. Since the upper and lower jaw are closer together than they used to be so are the nose and chin. Consequently, the chin can recede. Skin below the eyes can bag, and the skin can curl around the lips.
  • Since bruxism involves excessive muscle use, a square jaw appearance may develop.
  • The over-development of the jaw muscle and inflammation can block the paratoid glands and flow of saliva. The enzymes in salive help protect against tooth today. Consequently, dry mouth and tooth decay can be a problem.
  • The damage from bruxism can cause temporomandibular disorders.

In addition to these problems, as the tooth enamel wears away from grinding, the tooth structure below, dentin, can be affected too. Dentin wears away seven times faster than enamel.

Bruxism Treatment

The most common treatment for bruxism is a dental guard. Made of a soft rubber, a dental guard acts as a shock absorber and protects the teeh.. Although dental guards can be custom made by dentists, Dr. Shreas Patel of Patel Family Dentistry reccommends patients buy an over-the-counter dental guard first to get patients used to having something in their mouth at night. Furthermore, an over-the-counter dental guard will let a dentist know how severe the problem. If the patient bites through an over-the-counter dental guard, it is an indication the problem is severe.

Another treatment for bruxism is behavior therapy or biofeedback. The recommends that you concentrate on resting your tongue upward with teeth apart and lips closed to keep you from grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. Some dentists have also recommended a variety of biofeedback technique. Sensors are available which will warn patients when they brux with beeping sounds or flashing lights.

Medications usually don't work. However, some doctors may prescrible muscle relaxants to reduce bruxism. In addition to muscle relaxants, some patients have been using Botox. Botox is commonly used as wrinkle reducer. However, it also relaxes the jaw muscles and may reduce grinding.

 Bruxism isn't life-threatening, but it certainly can be damaging to the jaw, teeth, and gums. If you suspect you have bruxism, you should set up an appointment with your dentist. Although there isn't any cure, by using a dental guard in conjunction with other types of treatments, you can lessen its impact on your oral health.


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