Are the tips of your front teeth worn down? Are you noticing any yellowish pits on the base of your back teeth? How about tooth sensitivity to certain foods and drinks… or waking up with headaches, shoulder tension and/or jaw pain? If you said yes to any of this, you may have bruxism.
Commonly known as, “teeth grinding”, bruxism is the official term used to describe the involuntary clenching of the jaw and grinding of teeth, which typically occurs during sleep. Reports show that 2.5 billion of the world’s population is suffering with bruxism, with over 200 million recorded in the US.
The symptoms of bruxism are usually most intense immediately after waking. Some of the symptoms of bruxism can also occur during stressful times while awake, and slowly gets worse throughout the day. While there are various reasons as to why we “brux” at night, studies report that 70 percent of this disorder is triggered by stress.
In this rapid pace of digital innovation, we’ve become so mentally occupied with multi-tasking our careers and social media feeds without realizing that the heightened state of tension is then carried into our bedtime.
Effects of teeth-grinding
As a result, our brains are subconsciously letting go of that repressed energy and unleashing hundreds of pounds of torqueing pressure onto our jaws and teeth.
When teeth are affected, their biting surfaces are damaged as the white enamel shell of the tooth now reveals the yellowish, second layer of the softer dentin. This is why teeth looked stained, and is also why cold/hot sensitivity develops.
Bruxing will also cause the cusps and natural contours of teeth to wear down, resulting in a flattened, stump-like, appearance. As a result, it becomes easier for bacteria to penetrate the worn down tooth structure and produce cavities.
With time, the condition may lead to a greater prevalence of bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, dentures and even permanent jaw damage.
While there is currently no cure for bruxism, we’ve provided tips on how to maintain stress levels and oral health:
It’s scientifically proven that exercise is known to increase serotonin levels, which is a chemical in the body that influences a positive mood. Aerobic exercises, including running, biking, and swimming are known to be the most effective at increasing serotonin in the brain. You can even do 20 minutes of walking to get that “runner’s high”!
Find your peace
Whether it’s during yoga class, or in fellowship with God, meditation/prayer is the best stress reliever for your body, mind and soul. Studies show that daily meditation/prayer modifies the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress. Just a 5-minute break is all it takes to focus on your breathing, which causes the heart rate and blood pressure to return to its optimal state.
Meditation/prayer will also allow you to calibrate your senses, which is known to reduce stress levels. You’d be surprised how this quick and simple meditation/prayer practice can make a huge difference in your life and your mouth!
Get a night guard
The most common treatment for bruxism is a night guard, which is used to protect against the clenching and grinding forces of bruxism while sleeping. While wearing the appliance, the plastic barrier helps to alleviate the torque pressures of your jaw muscle, while preventing the upper and lower teeth from grinding against one another.
With long-term compliance, studies have reported minimized jaw pain, TMJ damage, gum recession, tooth sensitivity and/or overall tooth destruction.
There are currently two types of night guards: over-the-counter (OTC) and custom-made.
OTC night guards can be found in most local drug stores and/or large retail chains. With several brands available, customers can choose between various models and pay just a few dollars for bruxism relief. Inversely, low compliance and effectiveness has been reported due to the uncomfortable, one-size-fits-all design and bulkiness of the product.
Custom-made night guards are an ideal alternative because they’re made with high-quality bio-plastic materials, which provide optimal comfort and protection for bruxism sufferers. Custom night guards are only available by dental professionals and can cost anywhere between $400-800, and often times, require extra office visits.
To see whether an OTC and/or custom night guard is right for you, it’s always best to research and consult a dentist.
Andrew Lee (RDH MBA) is the founder and CEO of OTIS Dental, an oral care company offering an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to the overpriced and/or uncomfortable night guards commonly used to reduce the frequency and intensity of teeth grinding, also known as bruxism.