Bruxism or tooth grinding and clenching is a common problem that afflicts many of us at different stages throughout our lives. Bruxism is often stress related. Under certain circumstances alteration to the way we bite (i.e. after a filling is placed) or after a traumatic injury to the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint or TMJ) can cause bruxism and lead to the classic signs and symptoms of this condition. In some cases the pain associated with bruxism can be confused with wisdom tooth pain. Although tooth grinding /clenching can occur during waking hours, this usually occurs whilst sleeping.
The main signs and symptoms of a bruxism problem are:
- Biting surfaces of the teeth become flat and worn
- The biting surfaces become sensitive to cold fluids and sugars
- Tension and tenderness in the muscles surrounding the jaw and in the TMJ
- Waking in the morning with headaches, and occasionally associated neck or jaw pain
- Disturbed sleep patterns
TMJ disorders are best treated cautiously, using treatment methods that do not have any permanent effect on the teeth and jaw joint. Commonly TMJ disorders are of a temporary nature and simple treatments are used to help reduce symptoms and restore jaw function. The treatment plan may include some of the following treatments:
- Occlusal appliance therapy – may be used to take pressure off the jaw joints and teeth.
- Modified diet – to minimise chewing and rest the jaw.
- Avoid extreme jaw movement – ie. Yawning, chewing etc.
- Physiotherapy – exercises, massage, gentle movement etc.
- Warm or cold packs – by applying cold or warm packs, muscle relaxation can be achieved
- Relaxation and stress management – learn how to relax and lessen stress.
- Medication – in some cases short term medication may be recommended.
In some cases the treatment may take up to several months to be effective.
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Just as you should visit your dentist twice a year, you should also aim to visit your hygienist every six months, unless directed otherwise.