Bruxism

Grinding teeth, or bruxism is a parasomnia in which the subject grinds their teeth together throughout the night unintentionally. This can occur numerous times during a sleep session, and can cause sleep disruptions, as well as damage to the teeth. Bruxism most often occurs in the early stages of sleep, before deep sleep.

Bruxism can also happen unintentionally during waking hours, often as the result of stress or anger, but this is usually noticed within a few seconds by the subject.

Bruxism usually involves the incisors and canines moving laterally against each other, which can lead to tooth decay of the enamel, and the loss of their sharp biting surfaces. Bruxism is also damaging to any dental work done. It may also be due to the molars grinding together. In some people, bruxism will occur through clenching of the jaw, with little side to side movement. This can result in pain, and will likely disturb sleep. The sound of the teeth grinding together is not loud enough to disturb sleep in most cases.

Bruxism is a common sleep disorder, affecting 10% of people and as many as 15% of children. The bruxism rates decrease with age, and this may be due to the reflexive action that often causes bruxism. Bruxism rates are also higher in people with a family history of the disorder, with rates as high as 50%. Males and females are affected at about the same rate. Bruxism is often undetected. The first indication that there may be a problem often comes from the dentist who recognizes the damage done to the teeth

Bruxism is often caused by stress or anxiety, and is also found with increased regularity in highly determined people. Bruxism may also be higher when caffeine or nicotine is consumed before sleep.

If bruxism is suspected, you may need to take steps to prevent or nullify it, depending on its severity. One step to detection is the BiteStrip, an overnight detection device that monitors jaw activity. An overnight sleep study can also be used to detect bruxism.

Alleviating the effects of bruxism is easily attained through any number of oral devices, such as mouth guards. These can be purchased at drug stores and then self moulded at home to give a proper fit. More personalized ones, that ideally fit the shape of the mouth and teeth can be acquired through a dentist or a dental lab, though these are understandably more costly.

Many cases have been found of individuals who only experience bruxism when sleeping in a specific position. The jaw being set in a certain position during sleep may trigger the natural eating reflexes of the brain, which are not turned off during sleep, and cause the bruxism. In these scenarios, refraining from sleeping in the position may decrease the incidents.

Though bruxism, like most sleep disorders, has no cure, if it’s suspected that stress or other similar factors may be causing the disorder, eliminating those problems may help alleviate the condition. In these cases, a doctor should again be consulted.

Relaxation techniques should also be used at night to calm the mind before sleep. This includes yoga, listening to gentle music, taking a hot bath or drinking green tea. Eating before sleep may also limit the natural reflexes of the jaw, though results of this method are unverified, and eating before sleep may lead to other problems.

  Reviewed September, 2007

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