Bruxism is a dental condition that causes you to clench or grind your teeth, and can become a habit when awake or when asleep. The latter type is known as nocturnal bruxism or sleep bruxism. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 8 percent of adults suffer from this form of bruxism.
Nocturnal Bruxism Symptoms
After a long night of clenching and grinding, you may wake up in the morning with a stiff jaw, headache or sensitive teeth. Your partner may even be able to hear you grinding your teeth in the middle of the night. If your teeth feel sensitive or look flatter or smaller than they used to, the issue may have been persisting for a while. Any of these signs are cause for concern, and if you experience them, you should see your dentist.
How Dentists Diagnose It
Your dentist can diagnose this condition by examining your teeth for signs of wear. Luckily, the wear pattern caused by bruxism is very different from the one associated with everyday biting and chewing, so it's easy for him or her to see the problem. Evidence of bruxism can also be limited to one side of the mouth or just a few teeth, depending on the person, whereas wear from normal chewing is evenly distributed.
Nocturnal Bruxism Causes
There are many factors that can cause nocturnal bruxism. According to the American Dental Association, it is often a result of stress and anxiety. It can also be caused by dental problems like missing or crooked teeth or a misaligned bite.
How to Treat It
If you do have this condition, your dentist may recommend treating it with a dental appliance called a night guard. These are custom-fitted acrylic mouth guards that fit over top of your teeth, and protect your teeth from further damage. They also help to reduce the strain on your jaw muscles.
Of course, the damage already caused by this condition should be treated as well. If your enamel is worn or chipped, your dentist may be able to repair it with composite resin. If restorations like fillings or dental implants are damaged, they may need to be replaced. If your teeth have become sensitive from regular clenching and grinding, your dentist may recommend using a sensitivity toothpaste such as Colgate® Sensitive Complete Protection.
Nocturnal bruxism can cause a lot of damage to your teeth over a handful of otherwise good nights of sleep. If you suspect you have it, be sure to see your dentist.