Bruxism is a common sleep disorder that affects about 10% of adults and up to 15% of children. This condition involves clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep, which can hurt your jaw muscles, teeth, and temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which are the hinge joints that connect your jawbone to your skull.

Dr. Virginia Ellis of Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. diagnoses and treats patients with bruxism and TMJ dysfunction at her office in Orinda, California. Because many people are unaware that they clench and/or grind their teeth, she put together this brief guide, so you can learn about the warning signs, complications, and treatment options.

More about bruxism

Though bruxism often happens during sleep, it can happen while you’re awake, too. The mechanism of action is the same, but they’re considered two separate conditions:

1. Awake bruxism

Clenching your teeth during the day is often tied to underlying stress, including from emotional issues, anxiety, or even anger. However, some people do it as a matter of habit when they’re concentrating on something very hard.

Awake bruxism usually doesn’t need treatment, especially if you learn ways to become aware of your habit and employ stress management strategies. At the very least, the frequency of bruxing may decrease.

2. Sleep bruxism

Stress can follow you into sleep, and since you may not be aware that you’re grinding your teeth, you may not know to seek medical help. However, bruxism may produce symptoms that alert you to the problem, including:

  • Chipped or cracked teeth
  • Headaches when waking
  • TMJ soreness or difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • Stiff neck muscles

Additional signs of TMJ dysfunction caused by bruxism can include:

  • Grating or popping sounds when you move your jaw
  • Tenderness in the neck and shoulders
  • Toothaches
  • Swelling around your jaw area
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Locked jaw
  • Dizziness and earaches

Dr. Ellis can also see evidence of bruxism if your teeth — especially your molars — show excessive signs of wear.

Treatment options for bruxism

Fortunately, there are treatment options for bruxism. The most common treatment option is wearing a night guard, which is a custom-made plastic appliance that fits over either your upper or lower arch of teeth.

The material prevents your teeth from touching; therefore, you can’t grind them. Most people wear it while they sleep, but if you have a severe case of awake bruxism, you can wear it during the day, too.

Sometimes, medications can help relieve the symptoms. Dr. Ellis can prescribe a muscle relaxant to take before bed that prevents the muscles in your jaw from clenching while you sleep. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may also be helpful.

And, of course, there are stress management strategies. One of these is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a practice that teaches you to respond more appropriately to stress, bad habits, and other negative behaviors. Meditation or yoga may also be effective.

If you think you may be grinding your teeth, Dr. Ellis can give you an evaluation and discuss your treatment options. To learn more, call (925) 272-2698, or book an appointment online with Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp. today.