Friday, October 6th, 2017
Many people, from children to adults, suffer from teeth grinding. The technical name for this condition is bruxism. In most cases, bruxism is involuntary, or done unconsciously. For example, one of the most common types of bruxism occurs during sleep. In this example, the patient is unaware they are grinding their teeth. The only evidence of it being noticed by a dentist (damage to the surfaces of the teeth, worn down enamel etc.). In another common example, a person may clench their teeth and jaw during periods of stress. Or when they are concentrating on something. Again, this is usually unnoticed by the patient.
The consequences of bruxism are almost entirely obvious – at least to a dentist. Teeth that are flattened, loose, chipped or even fractured are a strong indicator. Worn enamel and otherwise unexplained dental sensitivity are another. For dental patients who are unaware that they are grinding their teeth, they may wonder why they wake up most mornings with symptoms. Symptoms such jaw pain, face and temple pain, and what feels like muscle weakness in the face. Some of these patients may even be misdiagnosed as suffering from TMJ (temporal mandibular joint disorder).
There are other consequences that may occur over time, if bruxism is left untreated. Wear and tear on the teeth (that beyond the normal wear and tear) can actually change the structure of the face.
Teeth grinding, if not prevented, will eventually lead to the teeth becoming shorter and shorter over time. As this occurs, the structures of the face and jaw around the teeth begin to almost collapse. If you know someone who has dentures, and you’ve seen them without their dentures in, you’ll notice how different their face looks – the cheeks appear sunken, and the face appears to be falling downward. Wrinkles are far more pronounced. These are the same types of changes that can occur with chronic bruxism.
Let’s take a look at the technical, or medical/dental reasons for why bruxism may change the shape of your face.
The face is composed of many different muscles that help control how the jaw moves. These master muscles are technically referred to as Masseter muscles. Like any other muscles in the body, as long as the Masseters are functioning properly, the shape of the bone structures around them will be maintained. However, if the Masseters are not functioning properly, perhaps due to injury or in this case, bruxism, the bones they support and help move will begin to experience a change in structure, and thus a change in the shape.
During normal jaw movements like chewing, swallowing and talking, the Masseter muscles are used. They are designed to be used in this way, however, if for some reason they become over used or used in such a way that is not considered their normal movement or position, they can not only cause pain and swelling, but they can actually begin to enlarge to compensate for the changes. This enlargement forces the other structures of the face and jaw to have to adapt, often causing a change to the shape of the face.
Anyone who has sleep bruxism (teeth grinding in their sleep) is at risk of changes to the shape of their face if the condition isn’t corrected, and the teeth restored to their original size and shape.
As well, people who constantly use their teeth for purposes that they were not designed for (i.e. nail-biting, constantly chewing gum, holding items in their teeth instead of in their hands).
And finally, people who tend to clench their teeth during the day, perhaps in stressful situations or when angry or nervous.
Preventing bruxism is the key to preventing the consequences. Ensuring that the teeth remain in their correct position, size and condition, and reducing undue stress or use of the Masseter muscles is the best way to ensure that a person’s face does not change shape.
There are several ways to prevent bruxism. Let’s take a look at the most common treatment options:
A custom fitted mouth guard is the first step in preventing teeth grinding. Mainly worn at night, the mouth guard will prevent the top teeth from contacting the bottom teeth as the patient sleeps. This will not only prevent the wear and tear bruxism causes on teeth, but it will also help to retrain the Masseter muscles and prevent the movements that lead to problems down the line.
In severe cases, Botox has proven to be highly effective. It works by reducing the ability of the Masseter muscles to contract, which in turn prevents the muscles from bulking up and causing the shape of the face to change. We offer botox treatments at our Vancouver dental clinic.
Behavioral changes are an important element to correcting bruxism and preventing the consequences of it. If the patient is a nail biter, this habit should be broken. Reducing or discontinuing the use of chewing gum is helpful. Counselling the patient in other behaviors, such as those that use the mouth or teeth to hold items like pens or eyeglasses, will help them to stop the behavior.
As well, if the patient admits that they are prone to clenching their teeth and jaw when they are stressed or worried, helping them to find other ways to cope with stressful situations will hopefully help reduce the episodes of clenching.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding as it is more commonly known, is a condition where a patient grinds their teeth. Most commonly occurring during sleep, the condition can cause many side effects including damage to the teeth, enlarged facial muscles, and a change to the shape of the face.
If you or someone in your family suffers from bruxism, it is best to take whatever steps are necessary to correct the condition immediately so that the likelihood of suffering side effects is reduced. Call one of Vancouver dentists today to discuss your potential bruxism condition and to discuss solutions to ensure potential side effects are kept to a minimum or completely removed.