Everybody handles excess stress differently. Same people develop an ulcer, some people develop high blood pressure, and some people grind Or clench their teeth.
Stress, it’s now believed, is the major cause of grinding and clenching, say dental researchers. In the past, a malocclusion (the way your teeth fit together) got the blame, and dentists would grind e teeth dawn, trying to readjust the bite.
In a small percentage of cases, sleep patterns are responsible, says Daniel M. Laskin, D.D.S., M.S., professor and chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and director of the TMJ and Facial Pain Research Center at the Medical college of Virginia in Richmond. The reasons children grind remain unclear.
The problem with bruxism, as the habit of inding and clenching is called, is the wear and tear on your teeth. “It can wear away tooth enamel, causing decay and sensitive teeth,” says Laskin. Expensive dental work can get destroyed in the process, too. “And, you can get aching jaw muscles, which may be confused with pain in the joint and the symptoms of temporomandibular [ jaw] joint disorder [TMJ],” Laskin adds. (See TMJ.)
Prolonged grinding may damage the jaw joint enough ta cause osteoarthritis, says John D. Rugh, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Orthodontics and director of research for the Dental school at the University of Texas Health Science center at San Antonio. And it can increase bone loss in periadontal (gum) disease, although it does at actually cause gum disease.
Yau may inherit the tendency to grind, says Rugh. Three times as many women as men brux, says Thomas F. Truhe, D.D.S., codirector of the Princeton Dental Resource Center in New Jersey. Bruxism is most common in those between 20 and 40 years of age.
Ironically, the regular grinder may do less harm than the intermittent grinder-sort of like the weekend athlete who’s not in shape for intense activity. The regular grinder can wear down teeth, but his or her muscles get stronger from the habit, says Laskin.
Clenching may do more harm than grinding, adds Laskin. “Your jaws are constructed for bruxing, or chewing, but clenching loads the joint isometrically and can end up causing degenerative changes in the joint.”
People who grind are usually aware of their habit, too, says Laskin. They wake up with a stiff or tired jaw, or their spouse hears the noise during the night. Clenchers, on the other hand, may be ignorant of their problem. “If you notice the pain gets worse as the day goes on, then you’re doing something in the daytime,” says Laskin.
Here’s what you can do to try to stop bruxing and to cope with discomfort until you do:
Wear a night guard. Your dentist can make a plastic or acrylic appliance for you to wear at night. It will redistribute the forces from grinding and protect your teeth from damage. “It’s a little like banging your head against the wall and putting a pillow between your head and the wall so it doesn’t hurt anymore,” says Rugh. Opinions are divided as to whether it will actually keep you from grinding. Your dentist will want to see you regularly to check for any tooth movement or cavities that might result from wearing such an appliance. Keep in mind, however, that in order for the night guard to do any good, you must remember to put it in.
Keep your lips sealed, but your teeth apart. Your teeth should be touching only when you’re chewing or swallowing. Drop your jaw and feel the muscles relax-then try to maintain that feeling.
Take a warm bath before bedtime. You may temporarily relax your jaw muscles, although they may not stay that way, says Laskin.
Exercise. Your body, not your jaw, that is. A walk or other mild exercise may help relieve some of the tension and stress that’s causing bruxism, says Rugh.
Remind yourself. If you’re a daytime clencher, you can put a red dot on your phone, stickers on your wristwatch, or even a string on your finger to remind you to keep your jaw relaxed, says Rugh.
Relieve stress. “Change jobs, get a divorce, get married, move the kids out, but if you can relieve stress, you can relieve the bruxism,” says Rugh.
“Don’t forget that good things as well as bad things can cause stress,” says Laskin. “I’ve had patients say they don’t have any stress, then they go on to say they’ve got a wonderful husband, two kids, a great job, they’re active in the PTA, they do this and that, and it’s all good, but it’s overload.” (See “Stress Thermometer.”)
Learn coping skills. See a psychologist or psychiatrist. Take an assertiveness training course. Practice techniques such as progressive relaxation or guided imagery or self-hypnosis. Listen to relaxation tapes. In other words, find something that helps you to better handle the stress in your life.
Take a mild analgesic. Ibuprofen, for example, can dull the pain and help relax stiff muscles.
Apply heat. Warm, moist heat is best. The simplest method: Soak a washcloth in hot water, wring it out, and hold it up to your jaw. You can use a heating pad, although moist heat will penetrate better. A hot shower’s nice, too. “Think of these muscles like the baseball pitcher treats the sore muscles in his pitching arm,” suggests Truhe.
Massage. It works for the rest of your body, so try a gentle massage to your jaw muscles.
Give your jaw muscles a break. Avoid the steak, the hard-crusted bread, and the popcorn for a while. “Your muscles aren’t able to tolerate that much activity,” says Laskin. Chewing gum’s a no-no, too, if your jaw muscles ache.
Tagged under: dental researchers, grinding teeth, Mouth Problems, osteoarthritis sensitive teeth