Treatment For Chronic Teeth Clenching and Grinding

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What-Is-BruxismHold the disorder train folks, because there’s  a new kid on the block. Well, not so new , but new to me. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD), chronic clenching and grinding of the teeth (also referred to as Bruxism). I paid a visit to Dr Craig Pearl in Rosebank, Johannesburg to learn more – and seek treatment for my TMJD.

Living in this age results in anxiety  and stress in one form or another for us all – and we will manifest this in various ways; think road rage, binge snacking when you get home from work, crankiness towards loved ones and an inability to relax and sleep soundly at night. For me, all of the above applies. To add to the list – I’m a jaw clencher and teeth grinder extraordinaire.

To make matters worse, I’ve been doing it for years unconsciously. I’d be a millionaire if I got R1 for each time I woke myself up to the screeching sound of teeth grinding. I would be genuinely scared to wake up in the morning, not knowing how tight my neck would be, or the extent to which my shoulders would stiffen up. In a few instances, it was so bad I wasn’t able to open my jaw to eat.

Little did I know that my clenching and grinding was fast becoming a disorder known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD). A very common one – and most people, like myself, don’t even know they have it. I finally took matters into my own hands and paid a visit to Dr Craig Pearl, a renowned Maxillofacial and Oral Surgeon in Rosebank.

My symptoms were a dead give away to Dr Pearl. Some other symptoms I was experiencing (but had no clue they were related), were:

• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
• Earache
• Pain at the back of the head
• Recurring headaches

After the initial consultation, Dr Pearl injected my jaw with botulinum toxin type A (a very well-known and common treatment for jaw clenching/ bruxism). The drug is injected three to four times along the jaw muscle on each side, relaxing the muscle as it goes. However, it will only last up to six months, making it an impermanent (and therefore not ideal as a long-term affordable) treatment. But still, I wanted to give it go.

I was completely surprised at the instant relief I felt in my face after the injections. Only when the constant clenching stopped, did I realise what it was like not to clench. Furthermore, and interestingly enough, the shape of my face changed after a few weeks. And by “changed” I mean, returned to normal – it became longer and I seemed to appear more relaxed. You see, the more you clench and grind, the more work the muscles in your jaw are doing. This means they grow in size, and gives you a hard, almost Viking-like round face. The biggest difference I noticed was that I slept like a baby and woke up with no pain in my face, neck and shoulders. Only then did I truly realise the effect clenching and grinding had on my sleep patterns. If only I knew months and years ago what an impact this would have.

So, great, the botulinum toxin type A was wonderful, but now… how do you get long term treatment that is affordable? I popped into Dr Pearl again who took impressions of my mouth – from these he made me a bite plate (a.k.a an oral orthopaedic appliance, as they call it in Doctor Speak). The bite plate fits onto the bottom teeth – and it is a magical thing. I can wear it all day and all night and no one will see it. I had a slight I’m-wearing-a-plate-lisp for the first few days, but this went away once I got used to it.

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Why is the plate so magical? 

The plate redistributes the strength of my bite, prevents wear and tear of the teeth, reduces mobility of the teeth, reduces clenching (bruxism), reduces muscle pain and positively alters the structural relationship of my bite. It certainly ticks off all the boxes.

Additionally, it is has shown that proper wear of the bite plate alleviates pain and dysfunction of the disorder in 70 to 90% of patients. For more extreme cases of TMJD, there are surgical solutions that would need to be assessed, discussed and confirmed by your doctor. But bear in mind, even when TMJD symptoms are persistent and severe, most patients do not require invasive treatment. In fact, most researchers and maxillofacial surgeons encourage patients to take a conservative and reversible approach (such as botulinum toxin type A and bite plates etc.) When it comes to seeking treatment for you – maxillofacial surgeons, physical therapists, psychologists and neurologists are going to be your best bet for getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

To sum up, there is an upside to having been a teeth grinder, because it led me to the wonderful Dr Pearl. Very rare is it that you find a doctor nowadays who takes your emotional standing into account as a factor to your symptoms.

It was actually Dr Pearl who led me to a path of striving to create a more relaxed lifestyle for myself this year. Every day is a conscious decision and awareness to just do one thing at a time. Not to get caught up in “everything that needs to be done” and to relax and enjoy each moment that it is. All this, now shows in my face.

For more information
Contact Dr Craig Pearl’s Offices 011 880 4011.
First Floor, Rosepark Building, 8 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank.

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