If your sleep is disturbed by gnashing and grinding sounds coming from your partner, or you’ve awoken to a painful jaw, you or your partner are possibly experiencing a condition known as Bruxism.

Bruxism is the medical term that describes when a person unconsciously clenches their jaw and grinds their teeth. This can happen during the day, Awake Bruxism, or at night, Sleep Bruxism. More women experience Awake Bruxism than their male counterparts and Sleep Bruxism affects both genders equally. There isn’t a known cause, though doctors and dentists agree that varied factors, such as stress or hyper-focus, increase the likelihood one may tense their jaw.

 

Grinding teeth when sleeping is common in children, though most grow out of it. However, if your child is experiencing Awake Bruxism, you may want to reach out to a physician, as this is sometimes a sign of developing emotional issues.

Bruxism causes tension in the jaw, potentially leading to headaches and other disorders. But before continuing, let’s review some anatomy!

Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ)

Keeping it simple savvy, this joint connects your mandible, or jaw, to your skull. It’s a bicondylar joint, meaning there are two surfaces on one bone that correspond to surfaces on another bone. In the jaw, there are two condyles, one on each side of the mandible, which function at the same time. Several muscles facilitate opening and closing of the jaw including the masseter, temporal, and lateral and medial pterygoids. The neck, shoulder and back muscles play a role as well, and while not directly involved in mastication, are important to examine because these areas may also be affected in some with a Bruxism diagnosis.

 

Complications

Clenching the jaw and grinding teeth leads to a variety of health issues, specifically damage to teeth, tension headaches and TMJ disorders. Damage to teeth includes: cracked or chipped teeth, worn enamel, increase sensitivity and pain, and even broken or lost teeth. A tight jaw leads to tension headaches that start in the temples, possibly extending to the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles. Disturbed sleep is another common complaint and grinding sounds can even sometimes wake partners!

Risk Factors for Developing Bruxism:

  • Anger and frustration
  • Stress
  • Hyper-focus or deep concentration
  • Type A Personality
  • Sleep Arousal Disorders
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Psychiatric Medications

Treatment

Bruxism therapy focuses on reducing stress, protecting teeth and awareness exercises with a Physical Therapist. Your Dentist may recommend a splint or mouth guard to separate teeth in order to avoid further dental damage. Though if you are experiencing cracked teeth, you may already require Dental correction. In more intense cases, Doctors can prescribe muscle relaxants or Botox injections to relax tightened jaw muscles.

 

TMJ Disorders

Mouth guards protect teeth, though they do not prevent grinding. Advanced cases of Bruxism can cause deterioration within the bicondylar joint, or arthritis, which sometimes requires surgical treatment. However, surgery is typically a last resort and many patients express finding relief through non-surgical approaches, like mindful based-exercises or Class IV Laser Therapy. Several sub-specialties within medicine are benefiting from radio-frequency or thermal ablation procedures to treat neuropathic pain or seal off damaged veins. Laser therapy stimulates bio-molecular reaction; thermal energy helps transfer nutrients for wound healing, accelerating growth and tissue repair, ultimately decreasing inflammation, swelling and pain! You can see the benefit these treatments hold for advanced cases of TMJ Disorders!

 

Physical Therapy

Awareness exercises help to identify triggers, or help some notice when they are grinding! Your Doctor may recommend sessions with a Physical Therapist to learn how to re-position your jaw and stretch muscles safely. Mindful based-exercises focus on developing awareness, using tongue placement as a method to prevent clenching. With advancements in medical technology and research, we are learning that in many cases Physical Therapy is equivalent to achieving desired results and often a safer treatment for arthritis than surgery. If you have already been diagnosed as having Bruxism and are looking to learn awareness exercises, some Physical Therapists do not require a Doctor’s referral. Cawley Physical Therapy is such a place, so email cawleyptfrank@gmail.com or reach out at (570)-208-2787 today!