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Sleep Care

The Nightly Grind – Coping with Sleep Bruxism

Nightly tooth grinding is a taxing problem that can result in chronic headaches, earaches, jaw pain, worn tooth enamel and sometimes flattened, shortened or even broken teeth and fillings. Also known as sleep bruxism, nightly grinding plagues as much as 10 percent of the adult population and as many as one-third of children. And yet, it is still unclear what causes it.

Some studies have connected sleep bruxism to sleep apnea. In fact, research shows that treating sleep apnea may help alleviate sleep bruxism. Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, caffeine intake, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness and certain medications also have been linked to sleep bruxism, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Meanwhile, one recent study indicates that the “daily grind” also may contribute to nightly tooth grinding. In other words, people who are under high levels of stress or experience troubles at work may be more likely to grind their teeth at night. According to a report in Head & Face Medicine, gnashing teeth was especially common in those dealing with stressful work situations and it was particularly evident in people who cope with difficult situations by escaping. It is suggested then that tooth grinding is a way for the body to release pent up stress and anxiety.

If your sleep bruxism is related to stress, experts suggest trying to relax in the hours before bedtime to reduce stress levels and to maintain a regular soothing bedtime routine. Creating a sleep environment that is cool, dark, and quiet may also be helpful.

Other suggestions for coping with sleep bruxism include:

  • Change sleeping positions. Tooth grinding has been linked to back sleeping. So, try to sleep on your side or your stomach to ease symptoms.
  • Manage stress. Learn and implement relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or yoga.  If your stress is severe, counseling may be a useful tool in alleviating tension.
  • Get adequate sleep and exercise. Sleep deprivation and lack of physical exercise may increase stress and exacerbate tooth grinding.
  • Focus on relaxing. During the day, relax your jaw and facial muscles and at bed engage in a soothing bedtime routine like a taking a warm bath, reading a good book or listening to soothing music.
  • Soothe sore muscles. Apply ice for pain or use a warm, wet washcloth to relax tight muscles.
  • Change your habits. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, especially before bed. And if you are a smoker, consider quitting.
  • Visit your dentist. Your dentist can help realign your bite, build up worn-down teeth and fit you for a mouth guard.
  • Change your medication. Talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking to determine if they may be causing sleep bruxism. Additionally, doctors can prescribe muscle relaxants if needed.
  • Have a sleep study. Talk to your family doctor about a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea. Correcting sleep disorders can help control sleep bruxism.

If you or someone you know have sleep bruxism, it is important to seek treatment before permanent dental damage occurs. A sleep specialist, a dental sleep specialist or your family dentist may be a good place to start. Your dentist may suggest that you be fitted with a night guard, a plastic appliance that you wear at night to protect your teeth. This is custom fitted to your teeth during a dental visit and is sometimes prescribed in conjunction with a muscle relaxant. For children with sleep bruxism, symptoms can be discussed with your pediatrician.

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