Joint and Headache Treatment
Our upper and lower teeth are supposed to glide together smoothly, touching only when we are chewing food and swallowing. Unnatural grinding or clenching can cause wearing and cracking of the teeth, as well as serious jaw impairment. This can also be the source of headaches and migraines.
The reality is that all of us grind our teeth on occasion — when we are angry or anxious, or when our sleep is disturbed. But when we grind our teeth on a regular basis, we have a condition called bruxism (from the Greek “bryx,” meaning a “gnashing of the teeth”).
If bruxing persists, as it does in an estimated 8 percent of the population during waking hours and 20 percent during sleep, it can have a negative effect on tooth enamel, bone, gums and the jaw. In the past, grinding (sideways movements of the jaws, with the teeth just touching) and clenching (clamping the uppers and lowers together) were believed to be caused by malocclusion (a bad bite). However, the latest research sees lifestyle reflexes, our ways of dealing with anxiety and stress, as the primary cause, with sleep disturbances and malocclusion serving as secondary and tertiary causes.
Of the two reflexes, teeth grinding is more common during sleep and occurs equally among men and women. Sleep is the time when the brain goes into a semi-resting state but stays alert enough to notice potential alarms, like a dog barking or the blare of a siren. This “disturbance reflex” appears to be exaggerated among those who have airway resistance, causing breathing difficulties during sleep. In response to sleep disturbances, the brain makes a quick decision as to whether these noises are simply routine, permitting the body to stay asleep, or serious enough to serve as a wake-up call. At the moment of waking, bruxing takes place.
Grinding may also result as a medication side effect among those being treated for depression, developmental disorders and schizophrenia, and among those taking recreational drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. Certain medications and drugs act on the brain, stimulating it. The resulting brain stimulation is believed to contribute to grinding.
Clenching is more likely to occur during the daytime, with women likelier to clench than men. One theory is that women are more predisposed to be vigilant. For example, they are more alert to the sound of a baby crying. This type of conscious attentiveness translates into more frequent closings of the jaw, rather than sideways grinding motions.
The Consequences of Bruxism
Over the years, the accumulated toll of bruxing can produce a wide range of damage that includes:
- Front teeth worn down so they are flat and even in length.
- Micro-cracks and broken fillings, eventually leading to nerve damage.
- Teeth ground down to the dentin, causing sensitivity to heat and cold.
- Gum recession, due to pressure on the gum line.
- Loose teeth, caused by the rocking effect of bruxing,and deeper gum pockets –also produced by the back-and-forth rocking effect.
- Headaches and aching jaws due to overuse of the muscles.
While there is no cure for bruxism, the condition can be managed through treating the symptoms, such as a combination of anti-inflammatories, soft diet, heat (usually applied with a hot washcloth to the affected area), etc. More successfully, a nightguard, or NTI appliance is fabricated. If you suspect that you clench or grind your teeth, consult Dr. Luther to undergo a bruxism evaluation. Dr. Luther is in the best position to evaluate the extent of wear and tear on your teeth, gums and jaw, and to provide a practical remedy to offset further damage. Dr. Luther not only offers and treats his patients with a NTI appliance, he is also a patient himself, wearing one every night to fight against his clenching. Be sure to ask him about his personal experiences.
Treating Bruxing/Clenching with Botox®
Dr. Luther will use Botox® as an “off-label” option to treat chronic teeth grinding/clenching, which indirectly may also reduce headaches and migraines. Not only are his patients experiencing instant relief from jaw pain, tension and headaches, but they are seeing a dramatic change in the way that their face looks. The square, severe appearance of their lower face softens into a more normal and esthetically pleasing jaw line.
This change occurs over two or three sessions of Botox®, as the masseter muscle shrinks. Patients have also reported a marked reduction in their general stress level as their grinding disappears. Hopefully as they break the habit of bruxism, they may regain control of their lives. Botox® treatment of teeth grinding is painless and quick (5 minutes). Results from Botox® treatment of bruxism start a few days to 2 weeks after injection and last for about 4 months.
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