You may not realize it, but the simple act of eating can generate a tremendous amount of force on teeth and jaws. Fortunately, your teeth can absorb much of this biting force — but within limits. If the force exceeds normal limits on a continual basis, you may begin to notice aching teeth or sore jaws, and we may begin to notice unusual tooth wear during your dental checkups.
The most common cause for this is a chronic habit of grinding or clenching the teeth, also known as bruxism. It can manifest itself by teeth grinding against each other, teeth pressing against soft tissue (as with thumb-sucking) or biting or chewing on hard objects such as pencils or nails. We commonly see bruxism with patients who are experiencing excessive stress, sleep-related problems or as a result of lifestyle habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. You may not even be consciously aware of it as in the case of bruxism that occurs while you sleep, but your sore jaws in the morning (as well as your sleeping partner’s complaints of noise) may be evidence of it.
Treatment involves a two-part approach. First, we want to relieve the pain symptoms and stop the damage. To relieve pain we’ll often prescribe mild, anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxant drugs, or perhaps medication to help you sleep better. We may also design a bite guard for wear on your upper teeth at night: the lower teeth will tend to glide or skate on the wear-resistant plastic and prevents them from placing excessive forces on your teeth.
The other part is to address the underlying cause for long-term results. If the habit arises from severe stress or other lifestyle issues, we may recommend biofeedback therapy or psychotherapy to improve your coping mechanisms. If an abnormality like a bad bite (malocclusion) is an underlying factor, we may recommend a minor bite adjustment by reshaping the teeth to lessen the bite impact.
The right course of action depends on a thorough dental examination to determine the exact nature of your clenching or grinding habit. From there we can discuss your options on how to relieve the soreness and pain, as well as prevent problems in the future.
If you would like more information on bruxism and its effects, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress & Tooth Habits.”