Coping With Sleep Bruxism

Coping With Sleep Bruxism

About eight to​ 10 percent of​ the adult population have a​ secret malady called sleep bruxism, a​ sleep disorder characterized by the grinding or​ clenching of​ teeth. Some people do it​ unconsciously even when they are awake. Stress usually has something to​ do with it, but the origins of​ the disorder are quite varied. The effects of​ bruxism are seldom anywhere near as​ bad as​ during sleep when the body’s protective mechanisms are turned off. Without proper treatment, the condition may cause serious damage to​ the teeth and surrounding tissue, as​ well as​ trigger headaches and jaw pain.

Bruxism can be a​ real nuisance. “It’s much like having a​ large football player standing on the tooth,” said Dr. Noshir Mehta, Chairman of​ General Dentistry at​ Tufts University School of​ Dental Medicine and Director of​ its Craniofacial Pain Center.

Under normal circumstances, a​ person's teeth make contact for about 20 minutes a​ day with only 20 to​ 40 pounds of​ pressure to​ be able to​ chew. During sleep bruxism, however, the upper and lower teeth come into direct contact in​ as​ much as​ 40 minutes per hour, and with a​ force of​ about 250 pounds on the first molar.

Sleep bruxism is​ not a​ disease, but it​ is​ the third most common sleep disorder after sleep talking and snoring. This condition is​ more prevalent in​ children, who often outgrow it, and causes behind adult cases are very different from those of​ the younger age bracket.

In the 1960s, Dr. Gilles Lavigne, a​ Professor of​ Dentistry and Medicine at​ the University of​ Montreal, and President of​ the Canadian Sleep Society explained that bruxism was thought to​ be the body's response to​ “malocclusion” --- a​ problem that arises when the upper and lower teeth don't fit together. Due to​ lack of​ clinical evidence, the theory was not accepted in​ the medical and dental community.

Later on, stress was cited to​ be the cause of​ the sleep disorder proponents of​ this theory failed to​ explain why not everyone with sleep bruxism was stressed and not everyone with stress ground their teeth. Some recent research studies also reveal the connection of​ sleep bruxism to​ neurochemicals like dopamine, but its significance is​ still being questioned. Dr. Lavigne’s latest studies have identified a​ pattern of​ activation in​ the autonomic nervous system that correlates strongly with sleep bruxism. He emphasized that sleep bruxism is​ not an​ indicator of​ neurological disease. No matter what science eventually discovers as​ the cause of​ sleep bruxism, current medical literature point out to​ stress, smoking, alcohol, caffeine as​ the main “triggers” of​ the disorder.

Relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or​ even acupuncture may help promote overall heath and wellness. Doctors, however, say that these alternative healing methods will not cure or​ relieve sleep bruxism.

For treatment, anti-anxiety medications and other pharmacological treatments may be prescribed by doctors to​ help bring bruxism to​ a​ halt. Patients, however, must be aware of​ that these drugs are potentially habit-forming. “It works too well,” said Dr. Michael Gelb, a​ clinical professor at​ the New York University College of​ Dentistry. The drug “working well” also entails the potential of​ substance abuse if​ the patient is​ left to​ use the drug without doctor supervision.

In the meantime, dentists suggest that patients may use a​ mouth guard. The mouth guard is​ a​ small plastic device that covers some or​ all of​ the teeth to​ protect them against damage, but does not really stop the grinding or​ clenching itself. The temporary relief can be quite expensive, as​ the device is​ customized to​ fit the user. But a​ more affordable version can be bought at​ over-the-counter drugstores which are usually better than nothing.

Dr. Charles McNeill, director of​ the Center for Orofacial Pain at​ the University of​ California, San Francisco agrees that mouth guards may protect the teeth but should only be for temporary use as​ it​ may also be more likely to​ induce a​ chewing response and increase bruxism. They can also cause irreversible damage to​ the bite, or​ arrangement of​ the teeth. Customized mouth guards made by a​ dentist last longer, fit better and are generally designed to​ distribute the force of​ grinding to​ reduce jaw pain.

Coping With Sleep Bruxism

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