What are the causes of bruxism, why does it appear and how to remedy it?

If you've ever slept next to someone who suffers from bruxism, you know how uncomfortable the disorder can be. But if it is good for your ears, it is also good for the person affected.

Bruxism is characterized by a rhythmic contraction or movement of the jaw muscles during the night, often resulting in teeth grinding. This muscular tension generally occurs during phases of light sleep and can have repercussions on the quality of rest. “We see fewer episodes of bruxism in deep or paradoxical sleep, the muscles being much more relaxed, almost paralyzed, to prevent us from experiencing our dreams,” explains Dr Haba-Rubio, neurologist and specialist at the Sleep Center of Florimont and at the CHUV Sleep Center.

Children particularly affected by bruxism.

While the phenomenon affects some adults, it is especially present in children.

“We consider that up to one in three children at the age of 6 have bruxes,” explains Dr. Haba-Rubio. These are often small episodes of bruxism, which do not necessarily occur every night.

The frequency then decreases during adolescence and then into adulthood, where around 8% of people are affected by bruxism.

While it is difficult to know where these jaw muscle tensions come from, it seems that a strong genetic component comes into play, as is the case for other parasomnias such as sleepwalking or night terrors. But other factors can be added, notably anxiety, particularly during childhood. “We see that children who brux are often more nervous, more tense,” explains the specialist.

The health consequences of bruxism?

Even if it seems harmless, this disorder can have repercussions on several levels. “One of the symptoms patients most often complain about is headaches or jaw cramps when they wake up,” notes José Haba-Rubio. Tension due to nocturnal contractions of the temporomandibular joint and the temporalis and masseter muscles (from chewing). “In extreme cases, this even causes these patients to have difficulty performing the movements of opening or closing the mouth.”

The quality of sleep is also impacted. Jaw contractions cause repeated micro-awakenings. “These awakenings are too short for the brain to register, so we feel like we're sleeping well. But it’s not restorative sleep,” explains Dr. Haba-Rubio.

Finally, bruxism is observed at the dental level. In the long term, friction ends up causing generalized wear of the teeth.

How to stop bruxism?

When it takes on excessive proportions – daytime fatigue, headaches, significant wear of teeth, partner discomfort, etc. – bruxism must be treated by a doctor. These patients are then recommended to use an occlusal splint at night, in order to avoid friction. They are used as first intention and help relieve joint and muscle pain.

As bruxism is linked to emotional factors, it is also advisable to look for triggers of stress or anxiety and possibly introduce the practice of physical or relaxation activities during the day. In some cases, a behavioral approach, such as psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be considered.

“We avoid the use of medications, because they have not really proven themselves for this pathology,” adds José Haba-Rubio. Possibly, in the event of strong muscular tension, we can nevertheless offer certain anxiolytics which act on stress.

Source: www.illustré.ch

Article written in collaboration with Planète Santé