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Sleep bruxism (SB), habit of grinding and clenching teeth during slumber, is problematic when it occurs regularly. This condition, affecting 10-20% of the population, can lead to issues such as tooth damage, jaw muscle discomfort, and TMJ pain. Many sufferers are unaware of their condition until complications arise. During sleep, individuals can exert up to 250 pounds of bite force while grinding teeth. Dr Desai, with her dental and sleep expertise, can assess if you have sleep bruxism, which is different to daytime bruxism (Awake Bruxism AB). She can provide a customized night or daytime occlusal splint to alleviate the condition, promoting better, pain-free sleep and a more relaxed night without morning aches and pains. While AB is a habit that can be controlled with therapy, SB is much more difficult. Splints are provided to manage side effects of SB. It is thought that up to 40% of patients who have SB also have underlying OSA of some degree. It is prudent to seek help to rule out OSA before you have a splint made. Dr Desai can assess your airway prior to recommending treatment for SB in order to prescribe the correct splint for you that may help the breathing and the complication of such grinding.

What are the symptoms?

Grinding or clenching teeth can put pressure on the oral structure: muscles, tissues, and jaw. This pressure translates into:

  • anxiety, stress, and tension
  • earache, as some temporomandibular joint structures are close to the outer ear canal. The pain may not be directly in the ear, it may be referred pain from a nearby area
  • eating disorders
  • headache
  • muscle sensitivity, especially in the morning
  • dental sensitivity when consuming hot, cold, or sweet foods
  • insomnia
  • jaw pain or swelling

These are general symptoms, although some people may grind and clench their teeth but show no symptoms. Things that can affect how long the clenching lasts include: patient stress levels, teeth not being aligned, posture, diet, and sleeping habits.

What causes sleep bruxism?

As with a lot of sleep related conditions, there are multiple factors that can contribute and influence the increased risk of suffering from sleep bruxism, so it is challenging to identify a single cause for the problem. We can, however, understand that there are a particular number of causes associated with the greater probability of one suffering from sleep bruxism, therefore treatment can be provided to help.

  • Stress & Anxiety – The grinding of teeth has long been held as one physical root cause of stress and anxiety. Researchers have stated that those who grind their teeth tend to report more symptoms of anxiety and depression than those not suffering with bruxism.
  • Change of Sleep Patterns – Evidence suggests that episodes of teeth grinding and clenching can be connected to a change of sleep pattern.
  • Genetic & Life Factors – A number of other factors have been identified to have been associated with sleep bruxism such as:

– Cigarette smoking
– Alcohol consumption
– Caffeine intake
– Depression
– Snoring

What is the treatment for sleep bruxism?

Depending on the severity of the case and how much it may affect the teeth, different treatments will be suggested:

  • Relaxation: For some people, learning relaxation techniques and changing daily habits is enough. Massaging the face, head and neck in particular can help to relax the muscles.
  • Occlusal/discharge splint: This is a resin or plastic dental protector that is used in severe cases. It treats the symptoms but not the cause in order to prevent tooth damage. It stops jaw, head, and ear pain from when it is used. The patient can wear it during the day, at night, or both, depending on the intensity of the bruxism and what the specialist recommends. It should be noted that occlusal splints do not get rid of bruxism.
  • Night guard: A custom made Night Guard may be recommended in order to help prevent the symptoms of bruxism and the long-term problems associated with it.

As well as treatments, advice is often given, including:

  • apply ice or damp heat to jaw muscles.
  • avoid hard foods such as nuts.
  • avoid chewing gum.
  • drink plenty of water.
  • get about 6-8 hours of sleep a day
  • try to find ways to reduce sources of daily stress.
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