Treatment Modalities

The goals of treatment are to reduce the pain, prevent permanent irreversible damage to the teeth and surrounding structures and reduce grinding as much as possible. Starting with home self-care remedies would be the initial conservative approach for treatment.4,54

Home Care

  • Apply ice or heat to sore jaw muscles
  • Avoid eating hard foods
  • Avoid chewing gum
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Do stretching exercises for the face
  • Massage the muscles of the neck shoulders and face
  • Relax the face and jaw muscles

Night Guards – Custom Made or Generic

Night guards are one of the most popular treatment options for sleep bruxism (Figure 8). The goal of a nighttime therapy appliance is to redistribute occlusal forces, relax the masticatory muscles, stabilize the TMJ, protect the dentition and dental work, decrease the symptoms and, hopefully, reduce bruxism.16,55 Night guards can last an average of a few months to years depending on the force and frequency of grinding. There are a variety of night guards; choosing and advising the patient on the correct night guard is important.

Night guards should be worn to protect restorations and be recommended to patients who grind and have multiple crowns, bridges or implants due to quicker failure of restoratives. Periodontal patients who show any symptoms of bruxism, or if the patient acknowledges they grind their teeth, should be educated on the need of a night guard for protection. The patient must maintain the periodontium since they have less bone and tissue attachment, and additional loss is more detrimental to periodontal treatment plans. Night guards also maintain space between the teeth so the muscles of the jaw cannot fully contract and remain relaxed.

Figure 8.
night guard
Night guard.
Courtesy of Glidewell Laboratories.

Custom Night Guards

For aggressive consistent grinders, a harder night guard should be recommended. A hard/soft type is 1 mm soft polyurethane for the inner layer and a 3 mm hard, more durable co-polyester outer layer.53 For less aggressive and episodic grinders, a softer night guard may be recommended.

Custom made night guards are usually the best option for the patient. The fact they are custom fitted makes them the most comfortable and, therefore, patient compliance is improved with custom guards. The process for constructing this appliance is a two-appointment procedure. At the first appointment, impressions of the maxillary and mandibular arches are taken. The impressions can be sent to a dental laboratory or the appliance can be fabricated in the office. Usually mouth guards are fitted to the maxillary. Sometimes a mandibular night guard will be made if the patient has trouble with gagging or comfort. The second appointment is for delivery and to confirm the night guard fits, feels right to the patient and to instruct them on the care of the night guard.

Generic Night Guards

Since custom-made night guards can be expensive and insurance companies sometimes do not cover the cost, another option would be to purchase an over-the counter generic night guard. There are “stock” night guards which come in small, medium and large. These night guards tend to be bulky, uncomfortable and hard. Their discomfort can lower patient compliance.

Another option is boil and bite night guards. These tend to be more comfortable than the stock night guards, although damage due to biting pressures reduce the life of this type of guard. The night guard is boiled until the plastic softens, cooled enough so as not to burn the soft tissues, and then placed in the mouth. The patient is instructed to press against their lips to aid in overall formation. As it hardens, it conforms to the teeth for a better fit.

Some patients may have a learning curve period with an oral appliance. Many times patients will wake up during the night or in the morning with the night guard out of their mouth. It is suggested the patient wear the appliance for short amounts of time throughout the day or right before bedtime. This will help the night guard not feel as foreign, make it easier to fall asleep and increase the chance it will remain in place all night.

Medications

Different medications have been prescribed by a physician or dentist to treat bruxism including benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, dopamine agents and muscle relaxants.

Anxiolytic (muscle relaxers) are prescribed for sedation and hypnotics to treat anxiety and insomnia. These drugs have a temporary effect on jaw muscle activity. The maintenance of their therapeutic efficacy is resourceful, however the long-term tolerability and risk of addiction could be harmful.4

Benzodiazepines have hypnotic, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsive and muscle relaxing effects. They affect the central nervous system and focus on the inhibitory neurotransmitter, mainly the GABA. The effects on the spine are mainly related to the muscle relaxing effect, while the action in the limbic system and cortical areas affect behaviors and emotions.4

Buspirone’s mechanism of action is based on its angonism for serotonergic receptors, interacting mainly with the 5-HT1A receptor, at both the presynaptic and postsynaptic levels. Its treatment in bruxism is owed to its anxiolytic action and its interaction with the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems.4

Antiepileptics (anticonvulsants) are prescribed for epilepsy and clinical management of orofacial pain such as idiopathic trigeminal and postherpetic neuralgia.4 The beneficial effects on neuromotor diseases, such as epilepsy, has led clinicians to test for the treatment of bruxism.

Gapapentin was studied and used for severe bruxism incurred by SSRI drugs and showed significant improvement.4

Clonazepam has evidence-based proof in managing sleep bruxism for the short-term. Its risks include addiction and mild respiratory depression.29,33

Tiagabine is used for muscle spasms, neuropathic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It inhibits the reuptake of the neurotransmitter GABA at the synaptic terminals. Besides its anticonvulsive actions, it increases the sleep stages 3 and 4, therefore, decreasing sleep bruxism. It is the only antiepileptic drug which helps increase the sleep stages.4,29,56

Adrenergic antagonists and agonists are beta blockers that are prescribed for hypertension, ischemic cardiopathies and some arrhythmias.54 These medications have shown a beneficial effect on bruxism–specifically the medications propranolol and clonidine. The hypothesis is these adrenergic antagonist drugs are useful in the clinical management of bruxism through the cardiac rhythm increasing during episodes of sleep bruxism. This suggests a possible relation between the activation of the sympathetic system and bruxism. Since tachycardia occurs in bruxism episodes, the data has strongly suggested a relationship between the autonomous nervous system and mechanisms of bruxism.20

Propranolol has shown relief for bruxism. Clonidine’s pharmacological effect is generating changes in arterial pressure and heart rate. This medication decreases the sympathetic activity during sleeping and decreases sympathetic tone during the minutes preceding the onset of sleep bruxism.

Dopamine agents (agonists of dopaminergic receptors) are prescribed to activate dopamine receptors. Bromocriptine is a dopaminergic D2 agonist that works both at the central and peripheral levels. Small doses have proven to reduce bruxism, but in the study many participants abandoned the drug because of the side effects.4

Another Dopaminergic D1/D2 agonist is Pergolide (Prascend). This drug was used for severe bruxism and used and studied in patients prior to receiving dental implants. Studies showed a significant improvement in bruxism episodes lasting up to a year even with interrupted use.52 This medication is no longer available in the US market due to a link of increased rates of valvular heart disease. It is still used in other countries for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.57

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is meant to re-align structural imbalances, reduce muscular tension, pain management and calm the nervous system. By unblocking the energy circuits that run through the jaw area, along with a general tonification of yin energy will usually do the trick. When dental pain is the issue, acupuncture treatment opens the channels toward the maxillary or mandibular jaw and soothes and detoxifies the meridians near the affected area, bringing pain relief.58

Massage

Grinding and clenching affects the masseter muscle the most often, since it is the largest and strongest muscle of the orofacial structure. When patients grind their teeth, it is usually the masseter muscle that is sore and inflamed. Massaging brings the circulation of the blood and nourishments to the muscles for healing while releasing the inflammation of the jaw, face, TMJ, neck, shoulders and upper back areas.43

Other massage benefits are: decreasing muscle pain and tension, relieving anxiety, stress and tension, relaxing muscles, alleviating headaches, facilitating removal of waste and inflammation by-products, stimulating the immune system and promoting relaxation and comfort.59

Botulinum toxin (Botox)

Botulinum toxin (Botox) can lessen bruxism’s effects. In an extremely diluted form, botulinum toxin is injected to weaken (partially paralyze) muscles and has been used extensively in cosmetic procedures to ‘relax’ the muscles of the face.60 Bruxism is regarded as a disorder of repetitive, unconscious contraction of the masseter muscle. In the treatment of bruxism, Botox weakens the muscle enough to reduce the effects of grinding and clenching, but not so much as to prevent proper use of the muscle. Although the intent of Botox injections is for the Botox to go into the muscle and not into the rest of the body, it has been shown some percentage of injected Botox winds up in the vascular system and migrates to other parts of the body. Botox treatment typically involves five or six injections into the masseter muscles.61 It takes a few minutes per side, and the patient usually starts feeling the effects the next day. Headaches and TMJ injuries could also be relieved with these injections.60

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a treatment used to treat daytime clenchers by using electronic instruments to measure muscle activity and teach patients how to reduce muscle activity when the biting force becomes too great.4

Exercise

Exercise helps relieve stress by increasing the immune and circulatory systems which helps with a peaceful night’s sleep and increases serotonin and dopamine. Hobbies for relaxation such as meditation or yoga can relieve bruxism tendencies.

Natural Remedies

Calcium and Magnesium

Some research states bruxism could be caused by deficiencies in magnesium and calcium. Magnesium’s vital role is in nerve and muscle function. A magnesium deficiency causes muscle spasms. Increasing magnesium intake will help relieve muscle tension. Calcium deficiency causes muscle cramps and involuntary movement of muscles, the facial muscles included. Increasing calcium levels will help with muscle cramps and support bone strength which can prevent bruxism by supporting neural development.61

There are some recommended calming herbs such as Chamomile, Hops, Skullcap, and Valerian. These all have relaxing properties known to reduce anxiety and to help the body fall into a deeper sleep.62 The use of essential oils, such as lavender and chamomile oil, may also promote a deep energizing sleep.