Bruxism: Teeth Clenching and Grinding

What is Dental Parafunction?

Parafunctional activity includes any activity of the mouth that is unrelated to its primary purpose: eating food, swallowing and speaking. Contrary to common belief, tooth wear and damage do not occur during normal function.  Tooth to tooth contact rarely happens in eating and is only momentary in swallowing. Because of the hardness of teeth, most foods will not damage teeth.  Other habits affect tooth wear and can  cause much more damage to the teeth and oral structures.

The problem of clenching or grinding called bruxism can occur for several hours every day or night, typically during sleep. Bruxism has been recorded as up to 2000 lbs of pressure and though tooth wear is the most obvious sign, more difficult to correct damage to the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, TMJ, located in front of the ears) often happens.  This TMJ damage can occur without tooth wear and symptoms that are sometimes hidden because the muscle tension comes slowly and the patient becomes desensitized. Another sign of Bruxism is scalloping of the edges of the tongue, facial soreness, or jaw tiredness when eating food. The loss of some teeth can reduce your chewing efficiency and overwork the jaw joint.

One of the most hidden signs of bruxism is mouth breathing, which most patients think is evidence that they couldn’t be clenching because their mouths are open, trying to breathe. The truth is, this is a gasping breath caused by a  constricted airway. Grinding and the subsequent tooth wear then indicates that mouth breathing is occurring.

During the day, habits that can cause the muscles to overpower the safety of the oral structures include: ice chewing, gum chewing more than ten minutes and chewing pencils, pens, or metal objects (pins, nails), fingernail biting.  Because these habits tend to strengthen the facial muscles, the patient then puts more pressure and continues a more vigorous clenching when they are sleeping and unaware.

Most often these signs and symptoms are recognizable through a TMJ screening that we perform during our comprehensive exam. In some cases, a diagnosis could lead to other recognized problems such as sleep apnea.

Protecting your bite and jaw joint from damage has many benefits.

by Dr. Robert Carlisi; Carlisi Restorative Dentistry, Prescott, AZ  86305

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