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Most people want to unwind after a hard day. But some people find that their jaws are not able to relax at the end. Over the past few years, I have been clenching my jaw constantly for the past couple of years. Most of the time, I don’t realize I’m doing it. I suffer from bruxism, a condition where the sufferer excessively grinds or clenches their teeth – and, unsurprisingly thanks to all 2020 has dealt us, it’s on the rise.

While many people are familiar with teeth-grinding at nights, it is something that I have to deal with during the day. My jaw tightens and my whole face feels numb. By the evening, it’s as if Tyson Fury has just played 10 rounds. My tongue feels bruised and my teeth tingle with sensitivity. My jaw clicks when I move it after two years of clenching.

Bruxism doesn’t seem to be a rare condition. According to the Bruxism Association, up to 10% of the population suffer from it, the majority of whom are 25-44-year-olds. It was evident that it was on the rise even before COVID. Dentists reported an increase in cases. That’s not surprising. Teeth-grinding increased during the recession, so it isn’t hard to imagine what climate change, political unrest was doing to our mouths. Add a global panademic to the mix and it’s no wonder your jaw hasn’t dropped.

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Despite the fact that there are millions of people suffering from this condition, research is still lacking. Professor David Bartlett, who heads the Centre for Oral, Clinical & Translational Sciences at King’s College London, says that bruxism is a topic that generates a lot more opinion than good research. This is particularly true for awake bruxism. It has been attributed to everything, from alcohol and smoking to genetics. The common thread throughout all studies is that stress and anxiety are triggers. “Stress is acknowledged as a risk factor causing habits related to clenching and grinding teeth,” says Professor Bartlett. Dentalcare.com cites stressful occurrences such as bereavement and overworking as triggers, while a 2001 study of the risk factors for sleep bruxism suggested that those who experience teeth-grinding are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.

Jess Price, our invited author, clenches her teeth throughout the day. She says, “I don’t know how I can stop.” Jess believes that her bruxism is due to psychological reasons. “I have anxiety so it is linked to that.  I can tell when I have had a stressful day by the way my teeth and skin feel at night.”

Anecdotally, it appears that bruxism, especially awake bruxism, affects women more than men. A 2010 study found that awake bruxism was more common in females than in males. Another, which was conducted in 2006, showed that women are 22% more likely to clench their teeth. Professor Bartlett stated that he did not know of any evidence supporting this theory. Although it would be easy to conclude that 2020 women are more stressed than their male counterparts and therefore more susceptible to bruxism in the future, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this conclusion. There is also the possibility that women are more likely to complain of bruxism when they visit their dentist more often and brush their teeth more frequently than their male counterparts.

One thing is certain, however: Bruxism has a negative impact on our health. Bruxism can cause severe damage to the teeth. They may crack or become loose over time. Patients may experience a locked jaw or a misaligned face. Although it is not life-threatening, the pressure of clenching can affect our quality of living. The simplest pleasures like eating, talking and kissing can be made more difficult by damage to the jaw and teeth. Long-term pain can have a negative impact on sleep, brain function, and cardiovascular health. Personally, I find anxiety triggers my bruxism, but my bruxism makes me anxious, which creates a vicious circle over which I have very little control.

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Amy has been suffering from jaw and mouth tension for several years. She says that it has contributed to her neck pain and headaches. Amy has awake bruxism, and her dentist recommended a mouthguard to prevent nighttime grinding. And when it comes down to treatment, dentists can be just as opaque as we are. Six months ago, I booked a visit to the dentist to seek practical advice. The dentist said that I could either get a PS200 mouthguard, or stop doing it. I have tried yoga, cutting back on caffeine and spraying lavender oil all around me within a 100-mile radius. Even though I tried a mouthguard at night, the thick plastic between my teeth made it worse.

Google “how to treat bruxism” and you will get mixed results. Many websites recommend mindfulness and meditation as the best way to deal with bruxism. However, there is no evidence that either of these methods will work. Although it is common to treat underlying stress with medication or therapy, the link between anxiety & bruxism is still unclear. This advice – however sensible – may not have any effect on your teeth grinding.

Amy had Botox injected into her masseter muscles after she researched the procedure online and found an aesthetic practitioner who could administer the injection. The Botox is injected at four points on each side and takes approximately 4-5 weeks for it to kick in. It lasts about 4-6 months from there,” she said. Botox reduces the function of the muscle, making it harder to clench, but alongside the expense and the discomfort of regular injections, studies have shown that it can affect bone density. The jawbone can lose its density just like astronauts do without the force gravity. Amy is happy to continue the treatment. “Botox has been a wonderful treatment that I have used for a long time with no side effects.”

Botox is not an option for many sufferers, so I reached out to Professor Damien Walmsley of the British Dental Association for his advice. He says that if your teeth grind is stress-related, you should try to relax and get good sleep. This is not an easy task, unfortunately.