Kaufman: Teeth grinding can reflect lifestyle or serious condition

Excess bruxism are typically seen in people with stress, anxiety, tension, anger and frustration, and hyperactivity or competitiveness

Teeth grinding is a condition of clenching, grinding, or gnashing the teeth either unconsciously during the day, or at night while sleeping.

The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism, and nighttime teeth grinding is called sleep bruxism.

Bruxism, if severe enough, can cause headaches, tooth damage and jaw problems or disorders, but it may often go undiagnosed, especially with sleep bruxism.

Symptoms of bruxism are grinding or clenching teeth, worn, flattened, chipped, or overly sensitive teeth, tight jaw or jaw pain, ear ache because of a tight jaw, disrupted sleep, neck and shoulder tension, or headaches.

Conventional medicine doesn’t entirely understand the causes of teeth grinding, however adult teeth grinding can be linked to anxiety, stress or tension, suppressed anger or frustration, or aggressive, competitive or hyperactive personalities.

Other causes may be poor alignment of upper and lower teeth or the body’s natural sleep cycles.

In some cases, bruxism can be a result of another disease, such as Parkinson’s or Huntington diseases.

In children, teeth grinding may be due to the growth and development of teeth and jaws, and is usually outgrown by adolescence.

There isn’t much that medical treatment can do to resolve teeth grinding—medications are largely ineffective but muscle relaxants may be prescribed or your doctor may consider changing one of your medications if teeth grinding is a side effect.

A mouth guard may also be fitted to protect teeth while sleeping, or your dentist may correct misaligned teeth.

The best solutions seem to be lifestyle and behavioural changes, including reducing stress and learning to manage stress better through relaxation and exercise, and practicing an awareness of proper jaw and mouth position, with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, jaw relaxed, the teeth slightly parted and the mouth closed.

From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, there are five main patterns commonly seen in this disorder.

Out of these, four are considered excessive conditions where one or two organs are functioning at a higher than normal rate, commonly the heart, stomach, and liver.

Excess types of bruxism are typically seen in people with stress, anxiety, tension, anger and frustration, and hyperactivity or competitiveness because the hyperactive state of these organs leaves the mind and body in a restless or agitated state.

Another excess pattern is caused largely by poor diet that weakens the digestion and causes food to stagnate in the digestive system.

The other cause of bruxism is a deficient condition of blood and qi-energy weakness.

The symptoms common in this pattern are pale complexion, dizziness, vertigo, heart palpitations, pale lips and nails and disinclination to sleep. The main differentiation in this pattern is that the teeth grinding would be rather quiet, low, dull sounding, rather than rougher and louder sounding in the excess patterns.

The key to acupuncture and Chinese medicine and its effectiveness is focusing on not only the symptoms, but the cause.

Some simple changes to diet and lifestyle habits are also easy, effective ways to increase the results of acupuncture.

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