Grinding your teeth, or bruxism, is very common, but there are ways we can recognise and treat it
Post by Dr Tiffany Kenton
Grinding your teeth (called Bruxism by dentists) is something we see a lot of at Greenwood Dental. We are situated in the middle of North Sydney, which is a major business hub. It’s the type of environment where you see a lot of patients who are stressed because of their work. And one of the main reasons a patient would grind his or her teeth is if they’re under psychological stress. I would say that around 50 per cent of the patients who walk through our doors are either wearing an occlusal splint to treat this, or need one.
There’s varying signs and symptoms. The main one is, some patients may have chronic facial pain with tension headaches. Sometimes, they may have sensitivity or pain in teeth to hot and cold. If they do grind excessively sometimes their partners could hear them doing it. And also, you get flattening and wearing down of the teeth. Sometimes their teeth are broken or chipped and sometimes the jaw muscles or the TMJ (the temporomandibular joint or jaw joint) could be stiff and painful, and sometimes the patients have restricted opening and chewing.
Dealing with bruxism, tooth sensitivity and TMJ dysfunction are just a part of general dentistry, and the primary thing we do with these patients to treat these symptoms is we try to identify their stress levels, and then work with the patients to get them to reduce their stress levels.
In some cases, you may need extra help above and beyond managing stress, and that’s where we look at making an occlusal splint for you. It’s basically a hard acrylic appliance, pretty much like a small mouth guard, that you wear either on the top or the lower jaw. The patients generally wear that at night and it helps protect the teeth, and two, it helps to relax the jaw muscles. It does that by opening your mouth slightly. We find that that’s enough to relax the jaw muscles.
People are not always good at gauging their own stress levels, but if you are experiencing any of those symptoms (facial pain, headaches, earaches or sensitive teeth) then they may be the best indicators of a grinding habit. It’s not always immediately evident on the surface of the teeth, however, because bruxism could be grinding or clenching. If the patients do clench then they may not get as much a wear on the teeth that’s evident, so we go by the other symptoms.
If you do find you need an occlusal splint, it’s a custom-made appliance, so there are a few steps we go through to get it made and fitted. With the first appointment, I normally take an upper and lower impression, and then a bite, which is a record of how the teeth come together. Then we send that off to the technicians who custom-make the splint for the patient. Then, normally, we book the patients back to issue the splint. Then two weeks later, I get them in for an adjustment, just to make sure that they’re going okay. Once you have an occlusal splint, there is a good chance you’ll have to wear it indefinitely, so it’s not a cure for stress, just a treatment for bruxism.