Common ailments

Teeth grinding

I am 27 years old and for the past few months I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain and tension in my jaw. I find it uncomfortable to eat very chewy foods and I my jaw often makes a clicking sound when I eat. I’ve been told I grind my teeth a lot in my sleep and my parents tell me this is something I did as a child too. Could this be the reason for the pain in my jaw?

The medical term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching is Bruxism, and is a habit that affects around 10 per cent of the population. It can affect adults and children but is most common in 25-44 year olds. Most cases of teeth grinding occurs during sleep; some people will do it while they’re awake but this is more likely to be clenching the teeth and jaw rather than grinding.

Many people grind their teeth without it causing any problems, however regular and persistent teeth grinding can cause the type of pain and discomfort you describe. It can also wear down your teeth, and lead to headaches and earache.

Around 70 per cent of bruxism cases that occur during sleep are believed to be related to stress and anxiety. Significant associations have also been made with other sleep conditions such as sleep talking and other sleep disorders, and bruxism also seems to be more common in people who regularly smoke, drink alcohol or consume a lot of caffeine.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments for bruxism. Wearing a mouth guard or splint at night will even out the pressure in your mouth and will help prevent damage to the teeth. They can also eliminate headaches and pain associated with the condition and reduce any grinding noises. Mouth guards are available from your local pharmacy, but it would probably be worth paying to have one custom made by your dentist as it is likely to have a better fit and be more comfortable to use.

Some simple lifestyle changes might also help your condition, for example giving up smoking (if you smoke), reducing alcohol consumption and managing any stress you might be feeling. If your bruxism is stress-related, it is important that you try to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Some examples of ways you can wind down before going to bed include reading, taking a bath and deep breathing.

I would suggest you get a dental check-up as soon as possible to make sure any problems that may have been caused by your teeth grinding are treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Your dentist should also be able to advise on suitable treatment options. In the meantime, an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen may help relieve the pain and any inflammation you may have around your jaw.


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