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Are You a Tooth Grinder? How To Prevent Worsening Symptoms

Headaches, cracked teeth and sleep disturbance: Bruxism can take a heavy toll on a person's quality of life. Treatment methods for bruxism are as varied as its causes, and now even Botox has been called into the battle against the painful disorder.

Bruxism is a condition in which you grind or clench your teeth, usually without even being aware of it. It affects about 8 to 10 percent of all adults, and its symptoms include:

- Aching or tight jaw muscles
- Headaches or facial pain
- Swollen gums
- Sensitive teeth

The human jaw is controlled by powerful muscles, and the pressure on the teeth during involuntary grinding can be as much as 20 times more severe than the pressure exerted during every day chewing or biting. A New York Times article described the force exerted during nighttime teeth grinding as, "Like a large football player standing on the tooth.” In light of that, it's no surprise that bruxism can lead to chipped and cracked teeth as well as a host of other problems. Fortunately, wearing a mouthguard to protect the teeth during the night is a simple and effective way to prevent further tooth damage.

Night and Day

Bruxism isn't only a nighttime problem. If you unconsciously clench your teeth during the day, you can also suffer similar side effects to those who grind their teeth when they're asleep. Bruxism during sleep often accompanies other sleep disorders like snoring or sleep apnea. If you're a nighttime grinder, you may not have any idea you do it until your partner tells you what's going on. Some people only find out that they grind their teeth after they seek help for headaches or jaw aches.

Beauty and the Bite

Botox injections are now being used to help tooth grinders. While Botox may be more commonly considered a tool in the quest for the appearance of eternal youth, a number of studies have shown it also to be an effective treatment for bruxism.

Botox is botulinum toxin type A, which is a purified form of the botulism toxin. When injected into a muscle, it prevents the release of chemicals that allow for communication between nerves and muscle, causing that muscle to relax.

Botox helps with bruxism by relaxing specific jaw muscles and stopping the involuntary clenching of those muscles. The effects are often immediate and can last up to four months. Since learning to relax your face and jaw is part of the standard treatment for bruxism, Botox is an aid in this area of treatment when other alternatives are unsuccessful.  If Botox is done correctly to treat bruxism, it shouldn't have any effect on the patient's facial expression since it is injected into the masseter muscles of the jaw which don't affect a great smile.

What Causes It?

The causes of bruxism haven't been definitively proved. However, the condition has been linked to both psychological and physical causes that may include:

- Emotional issues like stress, anxiety and anger.
- Certain personality types: People who tend to be naturally aggressive or hyperactive often exhibit teeth grinding.
- Upper and lower teeth that aren't in proper alignment.
- Use of caffeine or cigarettes.
- Taking antidepressants or other psychiatric medications. Bruxism can be a side effect although it's uncommon.

How to Treat It

Since there are many other lifestyle modifications that can made to treat bruxism, botox should always be a last resort. Overall relaxation and meditation may play a significant role in reducing the condition. Enjoying a warm bath at night may help to induce a relaxed state. Other steps to consider include:

- Going to counseling or therapy to resolve problems with anger or anxiety.
- Learning relaxation techniques.
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol may help reduce bruxism.
- Having the bite adjusted, possibly through orthodontics or other measures, if the tooth grinder has an irregular bite.
- Wearing a protective mouthguard at night.
- Avoiding hard foods like candies and steak.

There's no definitive cure for every case of bruxism. Sufferers may have to try a variety of treatments before they find what that works for them. Relaxation may help in simple cases, but more persistent tooth grinding will probably require the use of a mouthguard. A great place to get started is at your dentist's office to seek advice on how to proceed.

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