Ever find yourself clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth? Stop it.

Clenching teeth in a stressful situation is common, scientists say, but there’s a related medical condition that’s much more severe. Called bruxism, which means “to gnash the teeth”, it can cause sore jaw muscles and headaches. In severe cases, people can clench hard enough to crack a tooth.

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Over the long term, bruxism sufferers gnash their teeth so much that it can cause them to wear down. In severe cases, people can clench hard enough to crack a tooth.

We’ve all heard the old phrase ‘Grit your teeth and get on with things’ but in this case you should be determined that it’s something that you need to stop doing. Your teeth are not meant to be clenched and in contact all the time. They should only briefly touch each other when you swallow or chew. If they are in contact too often or too forcefully, it can wear down the tooth enamel, which is the outer protective layer that covers each tooth. Without this to protect the inner parts of your teeth, you may have dental problems.

Clenching or grinding your teeth regularly can also lead to severe and unpleasant pain in the jaw or in the muscles of the face. Bruxism in the majority of cases happens during sleep, but there are some people who also suffer from this when they are awake.

Who has bruxism?
It is thought that about 50% of us grind our teeth from time to time but it is be only serious in about 1 in 20 cases. About 30% of children grind or clench their teeth, but grow out of this with no lasting effects to their adult teeth.

What causes it?
There are many reasons for bruxism such as emotional stress (e.g. anger and anxiety), some drugs (e.g. stimulants), having to concentrate hard, illness, dehydration, the wrong diet, sleep problems, teething (in babies), bad tooth alignment and problems with dental work. Some people can also get bruxism as a side effect of anti-depressants and if you let your doctor know of this side effect, you may be changed to a different drug

How do I know if I have it?
You may not know that you grind your teeth while you are asleep. A bed partner may be the first person to notice grinding sounds and noises. Other clues may be morning symptoms of a dull headache, jaw muscles that hurt or are tight, trouble opening the mouth wide, long lasting pain in the face, damage to the teeth and broken dental fillings.

To be sure that you suffer from sleep bruxism, a simple home sleep study may be needed. A sleep study looking for bruxism by itself is not common, but it may uncover other sleep problems such as chronic snoring or even signs of some degree of the dangerous obstructive sleep apnoea.

Can it get worse?
Many cases of bruxism are mild and cause little harm. If so, the person usually does not know that they are grinding their teeth. But more serious cases may damage the teeth and result in facial pain and poor sleep. Nightly sounds can also wake other people sleeping nearby such as roommates and sleeping partners. If you know that you have this problem, then you should take action to prevent any serious consequences.

How is bruxism treated?
There are no medications that will stop sleep bruxism but most dentists will suggest that a mouth guard can be made to alleviate or even totally prevent the resulting problems and pain. It is like a sports mouth guard, but It will help protect the teeth, muscles and jaw joint from the intense pressure of clenching and grinding. It will not stop bruxism, but it will lessen the damage to your teeth, and eliminate the aches and discomfort of doing so.

The protective guard is worn when sleeping and they are not just recommended by dentists, but by practically every other medical authority or association, including the Sleep health Foundation, the many national Health Services, and reputable, trusted online services such as WebMD.

How do I get a Night Guard?
Night Guards, or occlusal splints to give them their correct dental name, can cost anywhere from around £150 up to £500 (US$150 – US$650) if supplied and fitted by your dentist, and they can obviously not just save pain but a lot of on-going dental expense. Effective, recommended versions are however easy to purchase online and are much less costly. They are simple to obtain from experienced medically approved companies such as Meditas who operate worldwide, who will supply a SleepPro Night Guard to fit your dental profile from as little as £37.99 (US$ 50), and will also include a second ‘back up’ copy for half price which makes a lot of sense.

John Redfern