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How to Treat Bruxism: 5 Helpful Tips
by Dylan Hao |
Headaches, jaw pain, ear discomfort, and a stiff neck are annoying and concerning on their own. But when you have all of them at the same time, and they keep showing up, you may have bruxism.
Bruxism treatment depends on factors like whether it’s awake or sleep-occurring, if you also have other sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and how severe the bruxing is.
If you’re just realizing something is going on under the surface that could be bruxism-related, you probably have a mild case. While troubleshooting, you can use some at-home changes that might fix the issue. But if it’s a moderate or severe case of bruxism, you’ll need to approach the treatment with a strategic plan.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the symptoms of and complications from bruxism that you should be alert for, along with 5 tips to handle your teeth grinding at any level.
Symptoms and Complications of Bruxism to Watch Out For
The idea of bruxing doesn’t sound too bad. What’s a little grinding and clenching when you’re sleeping or here and there when you’re awake?
But over time, these behaviors result in complications you can’t ignore:
Constant grinding from bruxism is enough to cause severe tooth damage as the movement grinds down your enamel. Your eroded tooth is now susceptible to the harm caused by acid, sugar, and bacteria, leading to decay.
If you have any dental restorations, like fillings, crowns, or brides, the grinding can crack those.
When your enamel isn’t present on a tooth, it exposes the sensitive layer underneath called the dentin. Dentin is soft and porous, housing microscopic tubules that feed the pulp and nerves.
Exposed dentin increases your teeth’s sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, causing you to stay away from your favorite foods and drinks.
A delicate little feature called the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, connects your jaw to your skull. When you brux, it puts pressure on all the jaw muscles and connective tissue, causing the joint to swell or become displaced.
If this happens and the joint is given time to rest, it can go back to normal on its own. But with bruxing, there is no rest time, and you end up with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
There are various types of TMDs that stem from different causes. In general, they all have symptoms that include significant jaw and neck pain, facial muscle discomfort, and limited range of motion in the jaw. When you can’t open your mouth as usual, you may have trouble talking, eating, and swallowing.
Are you noticing regular headaches at night that keep you from getting sleep? Do you wake up with a tightness in the back and on top of your skull?
These symptoms are probably signs that you’re bruxing heavily in your sleep. Since the jaw continually clenches and grinds, the pressure extends to the neck, jaw, and face muscles, causing tension headaches.
Without treatment, the damage to your teeth and the stress on your body makes you more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
The good news is that no matter how early or advanced your bruxism is, you can treat the actions and minimize future damage.
How to Treat Mild Bruxism
Take a few seconds and touch your upper and lower teeth together firmly. Now, move your jaw forward, backward, and side to side while clenched.
Can you notice the sensation as your teeth rub across each other? Do you feel the tightness in your jaw muscles?
Catching bruxism in the early stages is the best way to prevent the serious damage it can cause. You probably don’t need the help of any dentistry or healthcare professionals, just a few simple lifestyle changes.
1. Make Stress Reduction Part of Your Day
Stress comes from an outside or inside stimulus that causes your limbic system to activate. This is our fight-or-flight response, and it’s essential to our survival.
The limbic system releases hormones like cortisol and epinephrine that make us more alert and able to respond to danger. However, over time, chronic stress and the continued release of these hormones can lead to high blood pressure and other medical conditions.
Exercise and movement are some of the most natural ways to lower these hormones. But if your body isn’t getting enough activity to excrete those excess hormones, it will do it for you by grinding and clenching while you sleep.
Stress-relieving techniques can release cortisol and other stress hormones. These can include:
- Walking in nature
- Listening to relaxing music
By taking a few minutes daily to engage in any stress-relief technique, your brain won’t need to grind and clench to eliminate the cortisol.
2. Practice Oral Positioning Changes
Sustained, ongoing clenching impacts the temporomandibular joints, which are on both sides of your face under the ear. When these hinge-like features are displaced or swollen, the pain trains you to adjust your tongue, teeth, and jaw so that you don’t feel the discomfort.
After a while, your tongue, jaw, and teeth lose their natural resting positions, and you must retrain them where to set.
Pay attention to where your teeth and tongue are when you’re sitting inactively, watching TV, or reading this article. Proper oral positioning (or posture) means that:
- The tip of your tongue is aimed toward the roof of your mouth (not touching it).
- Your teeth are either gently touching or sitting slightly apart.
- Your lips are together without being forced into place.
Unless your teeth are misaligned, you should be able to reteach your mouth how to sit in this proper oral posture, which will then help decrease your bruxing symptoms. If you have a malocclusion, talk to your dentist or orthopedist about your treatment options.
3. Wear a Custom-Fit Night Guard
The damage from bruxism happens because your teeth are allowed to grind against each other mostly unchecked. You are asleep, so until the pain is severe enough to break through your subconscious dreaming, you keep on with the teeth clenching and grinding that damages the tooth enamel.
A custom-fit night guard made by the professionals at JS Dental Lab reduces this issue. A night guard sits atop your upper or lower teeth, preventing them from touching. Since they can’t get a connection, your teeth can’t grind, which stops your jaw from clenching so tightly.
There are many types of oral appliances, from sports mouthguards to boil-and-bite versions, sold over the counter and online. At this stage, you’re looking for a high-quality, well-made custom guard that will fit over your unique smile.
With a custom-fit night guard, you are likelier to wear it comfortably, and it won’t shift your teeth. You could get these from your dentist.
However, buying from JS Dental Lab gives you the same results at a fraction of the cost, and you never have to leave your home.
How to Treat Moderate to Severe Bruxism
By the time your bruxing reaches the moderate or severe stage, you’ve noticed the symptoms for a while. Chances are, there’s already harm done, so now you need to prevent it from worsening and take care of the damage.
Treatments for moderate to severe bruxism usually require the help of a specialist to intervene.
4. Know When to Get Help
If you’ve done all the stress relief, proper positioning, and night guard treatments for mild bruxing and you still have the symptoms, there may be something more serious going on under the surface.
Depending on your health and the cause of bruxism you’re dealing with, you may need to visit one or more of the following specialists:
- Dentist - If you have cracked or chipped teeth, tooth decay, or other dental problems that will need treatment
- TMJ Specialist - If your bruxing is related to a TMD. They can prescribe exercises and a prescription splint for your individual needs. TMJ treatments can also include more intensive therapies like biofeedback and Botox injections.
- Sleep disorder specialist - If you suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea
- Physical therapist - To teach you how to conduct your normal daily activities in a way that avoids facial and jaw muscle pain
Note that if you have any of these serious issues, you shouldn’t use a night guard until you talk to a specialist. The wrong guard can make your TMJ or sleep apnea worse, but the right one can be extremely helpful!
At-Home Bruxism Pain Relief
You’re on your way to solving the reason behind your bruxism. In the meantime, what do you do when the pain shows up, and you want to make it go away?
5. Use These Pain-Relieving Techniques to Feel Better!
Here are some of the fastest ways to relieve muscle pain, headaches, and other discomfort associated with bruxing at home:
- Muscle stretches and exercises loosen the tightly wound TMJ and jaw tissues - Only do this if you do not feel any extra pain. Otherwise, talk to your doctor about exercises specific to your condition.
- Take a warm bath or lie down with a cold or warm compress - These soothing temperatures relax your muscles, which helps reduce the pain you feel.
- Use over-the-counter ibuprofen or anti-inflammatories - If these don’t work, consider asking your healthcare provider for pain relief medication or muscle relaxants.
Something to look forward to is that with the consistent use of your night guard, you shouldn’t need to resort to these pain relief activities as frequently. You probably won’t notice a difference right away, but with nightly use, your bruxing symptoms will resolve.
When you’re ready to stop teeth grinding in its tracks, stress reduction, proper oral posture techniques, and custom-made night guards should help. However, the overall treatment for bruxism depends on the reason behind the behaviors.
Start with a custom-fit night guard from JS Dental Lab and these other helpful tips, and if your symptoms don’t go away, reach out to a specialist.