Headaches, Don't Sleep Well? Here's Help!

Jessica Pullano

by Jessica Pullano | August 10, 2010 @ 02:00PM

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Do you not sleep well, wake up in the morning tired, or with sore or tired jaw muscles? How about headaches or an earache? You may not realize it, but if you have these symptoms, you may also be permanently destroying precious layers of your tooth enamel. How? Many people subconsciously grind or clench their teeth in their sleep--a condition that dentists refer to as bruxism.

After a night of clenching or grinding, people often suffer from aching in the jaws, ears, and/or head. The jaw muscles may even work so hard that they become enlarged! Bruxism wears away tooth enamel. This enamel loss is not only unsightly, but it can make teeth more sensitive to temperature and pressure changes. The absence of enamel also makes it easier for bacteria to invade the teeth and create cavities.

Prolonged bruxism can even change your facial structure, making you look prematurely old. As your teeth wear down, the jaws must come farther together to fully close. Because your jaws become closer together, so do your nose and chin. The skin becomes too loose for the increasingly smaller face structure. The skin under the eyes may become baggy, and the skin around the lips may wrinkle, giving an aged and sunken look to the face.

With such drastic effects, you'd think that most people would get medical attention for bruxism. The fact is that they probably notice the symptoms, but the root of their problem is frequently overlooked. Most people brux only during sleep, so unless a spouse notices the excruciating noise that accompanies grinding, many people don't even know they do it. People who clench their jaw rather than brux are even more likely to be unaware of the habit since there is no noise.

If you often wake with a headache, earache or sore jaw muscles -- or if your teeth have become sensitive to cold -- see your dentist. Mention your symptoms and ask her/him if you may be bruxing. Dentists can tell if you clench or grind in your sleep by the pattern of wear on your teeth.

What causes bruxing? It may be caused by stress, a sleeping disorder, an abnormal bite, crooked, or missing teeth, or it may even be a side effect of medication! For stress and sleeping disorders, you'll need your doctor's help. If you are taking an antidepressant medication, such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, and your bruxing is a side effect, your doctor may prescribe a second medication called buspirone. For an abnormal bite, crooked or missing teeth, your dentist may suggest having these teeth re-shaped through the use of inlays, crowns or orthodontics.

Wearing a mouthguard can also help. Mouthguards can be hard or flexible appliances worn to protect the teeth. Standard mouthguards can be found in most drug stores but they are often ill fitting and uncomfortable. Your dentist can provide you with a better-fitting custom mouthguard to wear while you sleep. Keep in mind that, while mouthguards protect your teeth from further damage, they don't necessarily stop you from bruxing.

Do you brux? There's only one way to find out for sure. You can save yourself a lot of aches and pains -- not to mention preserving the aesthetic quality of your smile – by making an appointment with your dentist. 

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