Bruxism and its consequences for the teeth

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is an increasingly widespread disorder in our society, both in children and adults, which consists of grinding the teeth while clenching them together, exerting pressure.

It can be day or nightdepending on whether it occurs when the person is awake or asleep. With the passage of time, bruxism begins to cause pain to the sufferer, both at the dental level and at the jaw joint level. In addition, this pain can sometimes radiate to the ear, even causing severe headaches.

There is another classification for bruxism, depending on how it occurs.

The static bruxism is the least common and is usually associated with daytime periods. As its name suggests, it occurs without moving the teeth, and is limited to clenching them against each other.

The dynamic bruxismHowever, it is the most widespread and occurs (usually) during nocturnal periods. When it occurs, in addition to clenching the teeth, they tend to move against each other from left to right or back and forth, causing a frictional movement between the upper and lower rows.

Bruxism can be classified into the following degrees:

Grade IThis tends to occur very occasionally without causing significant damage, in certain periods of stress and involuntarily, often the patient is not even aware of it.

Grade IIThis is already a habit in the process of becoming fixed, where it occurs more frequently and comes to produce noticeable damage. It can come and go in times of stress or anxiety.

Grade IIIThe patient is aware of the extent of their bruxism, but is unable to stop. The damage becomes severe and can cause fractures in the teeth, requiring extractions and more complex and invasive treatments for the patient, who carries out the habit continuously, generating even more stress and anxiety.

Causes of bruxism

Although this pathology is spreading rapidly and with increasing frequency in society, the causes have not yet been determined with complete precision and certainty, although it is often associated with:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Malocclusion
  • Psychological problems
  • Drugs (such as antidepressants)
  • Stimulants such as caffeine or theine
  • Sleep disorders
  • Neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson's)

Consequences of bruxism

The consequences of bruxism can be divided into two main groups, those that directly affect the teeth and those that affect the jaw joint and muscles.

The consequences for the teeth include wear and tear, which can lead to hypersensitivity by leaving the dentine of the tooth exposed to the air and causing negative aesthetic consequences, such as the tooth looking smaller or even chipped. Furthermore, by overloading and wearing down the tooth in this way, it can even lead to a crack, which is not repairable in most cases and leads to the tooth being extracted.

As for the temporomandibular joint (known as TMJ), its consequences are muscle tension, which causes annoying pain that also radiates to the ear and head, and also causes premature wear of the pads that make up the joint, leading to problems and pain when performing relatively everyday actions such as opening the mouth wide or yawning.

Treatments for bruxism

Another of the added complications for bruxism is based on the treatment options, which usually involve palliating the causes of bruxism. The problem is making a proper diagnosis of the causes or having the possibility of actually tackling it. Trying to improve our sleep habits by reducing our consumption of stimulants or stopping using our mobile phones an hour before bedtime is simple, but reducing our stress levels is not usually something we can change from one day to the next, as they are caused by external situations.

This is why it is usual to treat the consequences of bruxism, trying to minimise them as much as possible, instead of making the habit disappear, something which, as we have already explained, is much more complex.

Each type of damage or level of bruxism has its own remedy, from medication (muscle relaxants) to Botox injections, but this being a dental clinic, we will focus on the dental consequences.

To alleviate them, the best known and most popular, so much sought after lately and so much required by patients, is the unloading splint. These splints are a protector that covers all the teeth in the upper part of the mouth, which protects them from rubbing against the teeth in the lower part, thus avoiding damage due to wear and tear. In addition, it also prevents muscle pain and headaches in many cases.

The offloading splint is made of plastic and is mainly flat. It must have a consistent thickness to be functional and it must be completely individual, or it may cause more damage than it prevents. For this reason, the best thing to do is to go to the dentist and have a professional assess whether we really need a splint and have it made in an approved laboratory.

Despite the recent proliferation of these items in online marketplaces due to their demand, we must insist, once again, that their use would be counterproductive.

Author: Juanjo Martínez