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  • Even though as many as 30 million people struggle with excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching (bruxism) on a daily basis, there still aren’t many treatment options available.
  • Bruxism causes more than just joint pain and annoyance to others, it can also cause serious dental issues as well as problems of the jaw and jaw joint.
  • Bruxism can be caused by a wide range of mental and physical health conditions; it may also be a warning sign of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Mouth guards and other traditional treatments are becoming more and more outdated, as doctors now prefer to treat the root of the problem.

Americans today deal with more stress than ever before, which means that more and more of us are grinding our teeth. But it’s not just stress that causes us to grind our teeth and clench our jaws. Teeth grinding (bruxism) is also triggered by our physiology.

Bruxism is for example more common in people who have certain dental issues, like abnormal bites and crooked teeth, or in those with sleep disorders like sleep apnea, a pathophysiology that affects the airway during sleep. Besides the achy jaw and the eventual cosmetic issues, there are a number of reasons why it’s worthwhile to get control of bruxism.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of people who grind their teeth: those who grind their teeth while they sleep, and those who grind their teeth when they’re awake. The distinction is important and will help you and your dentist come up with a solution.

Teeth grinding at night is more likely to be caused by dental issues or sleep disorders, whereas daytime sleep grinding is more often related to stress, anxiety, or depression. Once you know what’s causing you to grind your teeth, correction is much more feasible.

According to Mayo Clinic, certain people are more susceptible to bruxism than others. Disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), and Parkinson’s disease may heighten your risk. Caffeine or alcohol consumption too may make you more susceptible. Because there are a number of reasons why you might grind your teeth, finding the right treatment plan can be complex, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Why You Shouldn’t Grind Teeth

Before we discuss the best ways to reduce or eliminate bruxism, let’s consider exactly why it’s important to try to do so. Many people who wake up with a sore jaw, a migraine, or an earache don’t even realize that they grind their teeth while sleeping. But whether asleep or awake, there’s more to consider than pain and discomfort.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), sleep bruxism can also have a lasting, negative effect on your teeth. The ADA warns that people who grind or clench their jaws often end up with loose, cracked, or fractured teeth. Over time, excessive wear will cause the tooth enamel and underlying layer of dentin to break down, which in turn causes tooth sensitivity.

Teeth grinding can also cause some unsightly cosmetic conditions—like flat or stubby teeth—that can only be corrected through cosmetic dentistry, including porcelain veneers. Bruxism may also heighten the risk of developing disorders like TMD or TMJ, both of which affect the temporomandibular joint.

If unaddressed, bruxism can put your dental health at risk for long-term complications. Because you may not be aware that you grind your teeth at night, it’s important to tell your doctor or dentist if after waking up you experience jaw pain, tired jaw muscles, general facial pain, tooth pain, earaches, or headaches. He or she will be able to examine your teeth for wear and, if necessary, help you to develop a plan for eliminating bruxism.

Treating the Problem at the Root

The most important step in treating bruxism is discovering the root of the problem. This is especially important if the condition is caused by stress or anxiety.

It’s still not clear exactly how stress and anxiety are related to bruxism, but studies show that a strong link exists, particularly in people who are prone to grinding their teeth while awake. Treating stress and anxiety with therapy, antidepressants, or other forms of mental health treatment can help to curb bruxism.

If in your case bruxism is related to one or more underlying medical conditions, then you may be able to get relief by addressing those problems first. For example, your doctor will be able to determine if you suffer from a serious sleep disorder. New studies show that sleep bruxism, a stereotyped movement disorder, is closely linked to a rise in arterial blood pressure. Controlling high blood pressure with medication and a proper diet could also curb your propensity to grind.

Recent studies suggest that in some cases teeth grinding is the brain’s attempt to stop the body from obstructing its airways during sleep. Sleep bruxism may therefore be more closely linked to obstructive sleep apnea than previously thought, and at first successfully treating sleep apnea may lead to relief from bruxism as well.

Similarly, those who sufferer from GERD or ADHD may be able to reduce or eliminate bruxism by successfully treating those conditions first.

RELATED: How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Skin

More Proven Treatments for Bruxism

Although there’s not just one, simple cure for bruxism, there are a number of things you can do to directly inhibit or even to eliminate the tendency to grind your teeth or clench your jaw.

If your dentist concludes that your tendency to grind comes from one or more dental issues, he or she may recommend braces, dental surgery, or the use of an oral night guard. In addition, there are a number of relatively new options on the market that can help longtime sufferers find relief.

  • Mouth Guards — Your dentist may recommend the use of a teeth grinding mouth guard regardless of the cause of your bruxism, because these guards can help to protect your teeth from wearing down or cracking. Though helpful, mouth guards aren’t a solution so much as a “Band-Aid” intended to reduce serious damage. Mouth guards are therefore becoming less and less popular, as health professionals now generally prefer to treat bruxism at the root of the problem.
  • Occlusal Splints — An occlusal splint, also known as a bite guard, is a dental device that’s fitted to either the upper or lower teeth. It’s generally used to relax and support the jaw muscles, but it can also protect the teeth from damage. An occlusal splint must be custom-made and tailored to fit your mouth in order to ensure that it’s comfortable to wear both day and night.
  • Botox — It may seem like Botox is used to treat almost everything: migraines, excessive sweating, and now teeth grinding. But can Botox injections really help with bruxism? In theory, Botox relaxes your jaw muscles, reducing the sort of hyperactivity that causes you to grind your teeth. Unfortunately, the treatment comes with some risks: the latest studies show that Botox injections in the jaw can trigger long-lasting bone loss. Botox is not officially approved by the FDA for treating bruxism.
  • Medication — Some medical therapies are occasionally prescribed specifically to alleviate bruxism. Doctors sometimes prescribe muscle relaxants to help prevent jaw muscles from grinding involuntarily, whether that happens while the patient is asleep or awake. Unfortunately, many of these these drugs are addictive and shouldn’t be used as long-term treatments.

Other Methods that May Help

If medications, injections, or mouth guards don’t appeal to you, there are home remedies for bruxism to consider as well. Of course, natural remedies should regarded with caution, as they’re typically not studied or carefully vetted and so are often not recommended by the medical community. Still, some people swear that herbs like lavender and chamomile have a soothing effect that may help curb stress and anxiety and eliminate the cause of teeth grinding.

The same is often said about melatonin and valerian root supplements, which some people claim can help to put the mind and body at ease. But it’s important to note that sleep bruxism may not be related to stress at all, so these natural remedies are best for those who are certain their condition is linked to stress, anxiety, or overactive muscles. If that’s the case, behavioral therapy too can help reduce stress and anxiety and may be able to reduce or eliminate bruxism as well.

Whatever the approach, it’s best to develop a treatment plan in collaboration with your primary care physician and your dentist. Though there is much we still don’t know about bruxism, it’s clear that it can be caused by a wide range of physical and mental health concerns. Consulting medical professionals will help you to determine why you grind and to find the treatment best suited for you.

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