Do you often wake up in the morning with facial pain? Headache? Jaw ache?
On average, the clenching and grinding of teeth, or bruxism as it is medically known, affects 80% of the UK population and can lead to a number of painful and debilitating side effects. Sadly, most of the symptoms, such as migraines, ear ache, and a stiff neck/jaw do not overtly suggest that the clenching & grinding of teeth may be the cause - leaving bruxism one of the most overlooked and underdiagnosed conditions in the UK.
With the 14th of May-14th of June marking National Smile Month, a campaign that stresses the importance of oral health, now is the perfect time to seek treatment - especially if you are suffering from any of the side effects above.
Why do we brux?
The reasons why we might clench or grind our teeth are not always clear, however, it is commonly linked to stress and sleep-related problems. In fact, almost all chronic bruxing takes place in sleep - where it has been shown that we can unconsciously exert up to four times as much pressure on our teeth than we would when awake.
Studies have found that a high percentage of cases are caused by anxiety. Whether job or lifestyle related, anxiety can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and restlessness - increasing the likelihood of bruxing. Other factors are lifestyle choices, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks, as well as recreational drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine. These psychoactive substances have indicated significantly higher bruxism rates in comparison to those who do not use them.
What are the long-term effects?
Left untreated, bruxism can wear down the suffer's teeth, causing sensitivity and, in more severe cases, tooth loss. In extreme cases, teeth grinding can lead to an increased use of the masseter muscles at the back of the lower jaw. This continued clenching can cause these muscles to bulk-up, which can give the face a wider appearance.
Grinding can also lead to enamel surface loss, making the teeth shorter, and, in some cases, more sensitive. Shorter teeth can cause the look of an over-closed mouth, which we associate with old age. As sufferers typically brux when unconscious, this often results in an unrestful night’s sleep – in some cases not just for the sufferer, but also their sleeping partner. This can take a toll on their general health and well-being if left untreated.
What can I do if I think I'm a bruxer?
If you are suffering from any of the side effects associated with bruxism - book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Habitual bruxing will affect the physical appearance of teeth, with worn down incisors often present. Your dentist will be able to detect signs of this and, if deemed in the early stages of tooth wear, can keep an eye on it at future appointments. Whilst there, your dentist will also check for tenderness in the neck, temple and shoulder muscles - a common side effect of bruxing.
If your dentist believes you are suffering from bruxism, there are a number of treatment options available. If stress related, your dentist may suggest a course of behavioural therapy. More commonly though, your dentist can prescribe an occlusal splint.
A small appliance that sits on the lower front teeth, the splint works by preventing your upper and lower teeth from touching, in turn preventing the clenching and grinding from occurring.
Where can I find an occlusal splint?
There are a number of dentists throughout the UK that offer treatment for bruxism with an occlusal splint. Our useful Find a Provider search allows you to simply enter your postcode and discover available clinics in your area. To search for a practice near you, click here.