Bruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding, something which many people may do on occasion, but which poses a severe risk for some patients. Most commonly bruxism manifests at night, leaving many people unaware that they have the condition until a loved one remarks on it. Many patients complain of tenderness in the jaw or dull but persistent headaches - both a direct result of the undue stress bruxism places on the temporomandibular joint. Excessive teeth grinding can lead to fracturing, loosening, or even loss of teeth. Many patients find that their teeth grow significantly shorter over the years, and in extreme cases only stumps are left where healthy teeth once were. Furthermore, bruxism can lead to hearing loss, cause or worsen TMD (Temporomandibular disorders
), and even change facial shape. Restorative measures are then required, such as crowns, implants, bridges or even dentures.
The most common remedy is being fitted with a mouth guard by a dentist which prevents contact of upper and lower teeth at night. If stress is the main problem, therapy, exercise, a prescription for muscle relaxants, or dental Botox injections can help the problem. Patients should avoid alcohol, as bruxism often intensifies after drinking, as well as after consumption of foods and beverages which contain caffeine such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. Chewing on pencils, ice, and other non-food items is discouraged as it acclimates the jaw to constant pressure. A warm washcloth held to the jaw joint can help relax the muscles if applied soon before bed. Children sometimes suffer from bruxism, in particular during emergence of baby teeth and permanent teeth. Most children no longer suffer from the condition once all of their permanent teeth are in place.
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