Dear Dr. Mady: I have recently been experiencing headaches and pain in my cheek muscles, especially in the mornings. Also, my wife says that my teeth are "squeeking" while I sleep and I have noticed that they look shorter than they used to. What do you think is happening with me and what should I do about it?-Jimmy in Kingsville
Dear Jimmy: It sounds to me like you are a "BRUXER". By this I mean that you are most likely non-purposely clenching and grinding your teeth together in a manner which is different from your normal method of chewing. Bruxism (grinding of the teeth) usually occurs at night while sleeping and you may not even be aware that it is happening. Most individuals will probably grind their teeth at some point in their life but I would guess that 20 to 25% of the population will destructively grind throughout their lives.
The most common cause of bruxism is STRESS but you do not have to be under stress to grind. A wide variety of problems can occur, including wear that causes your teeth to become short and unattractive but this is only a small part of the whole picture. Continuation can result in headaches, periodontal and nerve damage to teeth, intermittent or constant facial muscle pain, TMJ (moderate or severe cases) or even irreversible changes to your normal facial appearance.
Treatment should only be as simple as removal of all stress from one's life but since this would be impossible there are other alternatives. These include but are not limited to intervention with medications, muscle and massage therapy ,or most commonly fabrication of a mouthguard by your dentist to help assist. If serious TMJ problems already exist, surgery by an oral surgeon may be contemplated.
The mouthguard that I am speaking of is sometimes referred to as a bruxism appliance, a night guard, or a bite splint. Your dentist can custom make it for you using a stone model of your
mouth and teeth. It is usually fitted over your upper teeth but sometimes over the lowers and is fabricated out of a soft rubber, plastic or a harder acrylic depending on the situation. When this barrier is between your teeth and you begin to grind, the only thing that can wear is the night guard, not the teeth. It also helps relax your face and jaw muscles meanwhile putting your jaw joints in a more comfortable position. It is important to note that this therapy should begin as soon as any premature wear of the teeth is detected, and it is fairly inexpensive, certainly less than surgery!
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5