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Bruxism (Grinding) and Occlusal Splints

Some people grind their teeth and clench their jaw muscles during their sleep. This is called bruxism and is an involuntary habit. Whilst we do not completely understand at present why some people brux their teeth and some people don’t, it is thought that if you are one of these people it will be a lifelong habit, but you may go through phases where you may brux more often or more severely than others. It has been suggested that this may be linked to stress. Bruxism is a very common occurrence, and often individuals are not even aware of their habit as it commonly occurs during sleep. However, over the years the gradual wear of the teeth can amount to a serious situation.

How does it affect your teeth?

As bruxism causes the upper and lower teeth to wear against each other it leads to gradual shortening and chipping of the biting surfaces of your back teeth and the edges of your front teeth. This is a process called attrition and can cause sensitivity, fractures and affect the appearance of your teeth. The pressure of the upper and lower teeth can also lead to a process called “abfraction”. Abfraction is where the enamel adjacent to your gums “flakes away” due to the pressure and flexing forces placed on your teeth when grinding, and causes notches that may be shallow and or sometimes very deep forming along your gumline. For a long time these notches were thought to be caused by overzealous tooth brushing, however, we now know that most of these are caused by bruxism. These notches can become very sensitive to cold, acids and sweet or if inadequately cleaned, decay can occur.

Bruxism can also lead to strain and injury to the jaw joint (TMJ joint) and associated muscles. This can lead to pain, clicking or locking of the joint or muscular headaches.

What is an occlusal splint?

An occlusal splint is a slim hard acrylic guard fitted to the upper jaw and covering the biting surfaces of your upper teeth. It is designed to be worn at night. An occlusal splint will not stop you from grinding or clenching. It does however, guide the jaw into a neutral position which relieves some of the pressure on the jaw joint and very effectively protects your teeth against the destructive forces of bruxism.

What to expect during your occlusal splint appointments?

As our occlusal splints are custom made specifically for you in our on-site laboratory, two short appointments are required:

Appointment 1: During this appointment your dentist will take impressions of your upper and lower teeth as well as some measurements

Appointment 2: During this appointment your dentist will ensure that your new splint fits comfortably around your upper teeth and in your bite.

Is further treatment necessary?

The purpose of a splint is to absorb the destructive forces of bruxism and to provide something to wear down other than your teeth. As such your splint will wear down, chip and may eventually break after years of grinding on it. When this occurs, your splint will need to be replaced.

In cases of severe bruxism in addition to an occlusal splint to protect your teeth, treatment by a physiotherapist may be necessary to address any muscular pain and to provide exercises to strengthen and protect your jaw joint.