Are you clenching your teeth?
There is no doubt that millions of Americans have been diagnosed with clenching or grinding of their teeth. This problem is referred to as Bruxism. It presents with a wide range of symptoms:
- Pain in the jaw, muscles, joint or teeth
- Clicking or popping noises when opening or closing the jaw
- Fatigue in the jaw after holding the jaw open for short periods…ie: during dental visits
- Discomfort of stiffness noted in the jaw when waking up in the morning or after a long day
- Chipped or worn teeth as well as more serious cracked teeth
- Chronic temporal headaches or neck and shoulder pain
Any of these symptoms can be signs of chronic Bruxing. Sometimes some of these symptoms may present without pain. The key is the frequency of problems and symptoms. A onetime event does not always mean there is a problem. However, regular recurrence of some of these symptoms could be a silent indicator of chronic Bruxing. Long term these symptoms may accumulate and intensify in to a major dental problem.
So…If I do Brux…what do I do?
The first step is a through dental exam…sometimes tooth or gum problems can also mimic Bruxing problems. Shifted or missing teeth as well as mal alignments in the bite may cause the jaw not to function normally. The jaw then compensates over time and destructive forces take an upper hand. Sometimes subtle changes or irregularities in the bite can cause the jaw to become out of alignment. The position of erupted wisdom teeth may also play a role in bite problems. Sometimes the bite and function of the jaw are normal and individual habits take over and cause pain and symptoms.
Treatments may be minor or may be more involved. If major dental problems exist then restoring normal form and function to the teeth and bite would be indicated. Sometimes however subtle adjustments made to the bite as well as the use of an occlusal bite guard may be the answer.
What is an Occlusal Bite Guard?
Bite guards can come in different shapes and styles. Some guards fit upper teeth and some are designed for lower teeth. The most common bite guard is referred to as a Deprogramming Splint. It is a clear appliance that fits on the upper teeth. When biting with the splint in place it allows the front teeth to touch with minimal biting on the back teeth. The design is such that it removes the heavy biting forces we can generate on our back teeth and moves them forward. Our jaw functions like a lever and just like a nut cracker. We generate the most powerful bite forces closest to the hinge. We therefore design the Deprogramming Splint with the bite forces as far away from the hinge as possible on front teeth. The bite guard serves two purposes: first to protect the teeth from strong destructive bite forces and second to modify habits we may have of clenching our teeth. When a splint is first inserted it may take a visit or two to get it adjusted comfortably. It is then advised to take the next month to try to wear the splint as much as possible to really see when the most important time is to wear the appliance. Some people it is most important to wear at night but for some day time clenching is a real issue. When an individual realizes a previously subconscious habit of clenching during the day to use the splint as a tool to learn when clenching is really occurring. Treatment of the symptoms is a process of co-discovery between the patient and the dentist. At Reitano Dentistry we want to guide you on your journey to discover how to reduce clenching and pain associated with it. If your jaw is happy, it will bring a smile to your face!