Bruxism is the medical term for the habit of grinding and clenching your teeth. Most people will do this from time to time, which does not usually cause any harm, but when grinding happens on a regular basis it can permanently damage the teeth. In some people it can also aggravate headaches and ear aches, increasing pain and discomfort. It can also affect the face aesthetically.
Teeth grinding usually occurs subconsciously during sleep. In most people, stress and anxiety are contributing factor to bruxism.
Types of Bruxism
Bruxism is often classified as either:
Awake bruxism, which is when you habitually clench your teeth and jaw when awake (but there is not usually any teeth grinding). Most will do this subconsciously while concentrating.
Sleep bruxism, which is when you subconsciously grind your teeth and squeeze your jaw muscles in your sleep. Partners may hear grinding or clenching, which can be noisy and irritating.
Whatever the effect, clenching and grinding are habits which are hard to break and can cause significant effect in terms of aching, sleep disturbance and tooth damage. If it becomes persistent, treatment is available.
Long-term clenching causes enlargement of the muscles at the side of the jaw – notably the masseter and temporalis muscles. This causes widening and ‘squaring’ of the lower face, masking the normal, youthful oval or heart-shaped appearance many would prefer.
Injections of botulinum toxin into the temporalis and masseter muscles at the side of the jaw can be used to selectively weaken them. This can break the habit of clenching and grinding as the muscles become less active. Many people find that after a few treatments the problem will go away.
Once the muscles cannot clench, they become smaller – as any muscle does from lack of use – and return to their normal size. This changes the face shape back from the square look to a slimmer, more oval shape.
Before and after images
These pictures are of one of our patients (reproduced with her permission) who suffered for years with clenching and grinding as a result of a painful ear problem. She was unable to open her mouth wider than a finger’s breadth, which restricted her eating.
After treatment with botulinum toxin injections she stopped grinding and within two weeks could open her mouth normally as you can see in image three and four.