Teeth grinding needs treatment
Posted on 26 May 2017
It is estimated that about 13% of people frequently grind their teeth at night. But teeth grinding – medically known as bruxism – can be experienced in the day too by people both young and old. Not only could it damage a person’s teeth, but it may be caused by an external factor or underlying condition that needs to be identified.
‘Bruxism is a movement disorder of the mouth and is common in young adults,’ explains Dr Wiehann Basson, a Stellenbosch-based dentist. ‘While the condition is a real problem, it is not a disease. Like any disorder, bruxism should be viewed as something that can be corrected through various proactive solutions.’
Bruxism can occur both while sleeping or during waking hours. It involves the mouth and associated joints and muscles and is characterised by a nagging headache or painful jaw. And while oral discomfort and muscular fatigue are among its foremost side effects, it is the chronic grinding of teeth and joint damage that are the real causes for concern.
‘Excessive contact between teeth can lead to permanent tooth damage,’ says Dr Basson. ‘Some people grind their teeth only occasionally, but chronic cases of bruxism require proper medical supervision. The wearing down of the enamel makes the patient more susceptible to tooth decay and even cracking of teeth in the long term. Damage to the temporomandibular joint is also possible in more severe cases.’
What causes teeth grinding?
‘Social and psychological factors are perhaps the most influential,’ Dr Basson adds. ‘Stress is part and parcel of our everyday lives. It affects our overall health, including dental health. Even in the case of growing children, conscious or subconscious pressures such as schoolwork or the onset of illness can contribute to teeth grinding.’
How is bruxism treated?
A typical consultation for bruxism is not limited solely to the dentist’s chair. A one-on-one conversation usually complements a thorough oral inspection, something Dr Basson says is critical in achieving proper diagnosis.
‘A full patient history helps build a profile,’ he explains. ‘Ascertaining various patterns and sleeping habits together with a full dental inspection helps determine whether the bruxism is chronic or more random.’
Dr Basson adds that treatment is tailored to the individual. ‘Night guards or plates can be prescribed for bruxism,’ he says. ‘These devices serve to protect the teeth from further damage and are a first line of defence. More severe cases would require prescribing a muscle relaxant, and in more severe cases, referring the patient to a physiotherapist or a maxillofacial surgeon’.
‘Treating bruxism effectively is a team effort,’ Dr Basson concludes. ‘Determining the cause goes a long way in providing relief. And in the case of children, bruxism is often something they eventually outgrow.’