Do you often wake up with a sore jaw and possibly even a headache? You could be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw without even realising it.

Referred to as bruxism, this condition includes either the grinding of your teeth which is more common at night while sleeping, or the clenching of the jaw which is more common during the day, with many sufferers experiencing both.

Studies have shown that up to 70% of bruxism cases can be attributed to stress. Stress is how the body reacts to and handles harmful situations.  Stress, as well as anger, tension, and frustration, can lead to teeth grinding. Some people also clench their jaw when dealing with intense emotions or when concentrating deeply.

Other causes of bruxism can include genetics – if members of your family have a history of grinding their teeth, you may have an increased risk of developing this condition yourself. Some mental health and medical disorders such as dementia, night terrors, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy can also be associated with bruxism.

Grinding of teeth is common, affecting approximately 8-10% of the population, most often between the ages of 25 and 44. While some people may go through phases of bruxism, many people will do it regularly enough to cause damage.

Ongoing teeth grinding and jaw clenching can cause serious damage.

 When grinding your teeth surfaces together, you can wear through the protective enamel layer quite quickly. This exposes the softer inner layers of the teeth which can be ground away even faster. Often it will be your dentist who may diagnose bruxism. 

Both regular jaw clenching and grinding puts strain on the muscles and ligaments of the jaw. This can cause pain when you wake up and may over time cause your jaw to pop or click when you open or close it. With constant jaw clenching pain, it can become uncomfortable to eat. In fact, severe bruxism can even change your bite. Excessive grinding can gradually push your teeth out of their proper position. 

In severe cases, when constant grinding and wearing down of teeth has led to sensitivity or the inability to chew food properly, your dentist may need to reshape the chewing surfaces of your teeth or use crowns to repair the damage.

Bruxism is often related to a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (known as TMJ or TMD) – a painful condition that occurs when the jaw joint is misaligne. Common symptoms of TMJ include headache, aching pain in or around the ear, joint locking or popping, pain or tenderness in the cheek or jaw or difficult chewing. People who grind their teeth or clench their jaw do not necessarily develop TMJ, but in some cases, bruxism can lead to TMJ or aggravate an existing condition.  If you suffer from bruxism, it is important to manage or treat the condition in order to prevent TMJ from developing.

There are some methods which can be adopted to try and reduce the severity of teeth grinding or jaw clenching. These include sleeping with a custom made mouth guard, wearing a bite splint, reducing your stress levels or even trying certain techniques in order to consciously relax your jaw throughout the day.

In terms of treatment, some doctors may suggest taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime for a short period of time. Muscle relaxants help to relieve jaw pain and discomfort due to a TMJ disorder by relaxing the muscles in your jaw and face, and helping to decrease muscle spasms. Botox injections or even anti-anxiety medication may also be options for people who do not respond to other treatments.

To relieve the often painful and uncomfortable symptoms of bruxism, a muscle relaxant combined with an analgesic (e.g. paracetamol) can provide effective relief of symptoms and can reduce muscular spasms and pain.

An anti-inflammatory gel such as Norflex® Gel can also be helpful as its anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve the muscular inflammation while its analgesic and local anaesthetic properties can help reduce any possible surface pain.

Speak to your doctor, dentist or pharmacist about possible treatments, including a choice of using South Africa’s number one prescribed muscle relaxant brand, as well as Norflex® Gel, which are both available over the counter and without the need for a prescription

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