Symptoms from Nowhere: Bruxism?

One of the most baffling things about dementia is the sudden appearance of new symptoms. Some behaviors — like fears and delusions — emerge from nowhere then disappear like smoke from a blown-out candle. Mom’s most recent problem is bruxism — have you heard of it?

It may be time to add “bruxism” to your caregiver vocabulary. It’s the technical term for grinding your teeth — something my mom has been doing for the past few weeks. The first time I heard the sound, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. Nothing in the room appeared to be moving. I thought some unseen threat was about to reveal itself. A mouse? A broken pipe? I turned off the water and put my arms around mom. Then my keen, caregiver radar kicked in.

The noise was coming from inside her head. With my fingers on the side of her cheek, I could feel the movement in her jaw. But she seemed to be completely unaware of what she was doing. So strange. I asked if her teeth hurt or her mouth was in pain. “No,” she said, “I’m fine.” Then she walked out to sit on the couch with me. After a few minutes of calm conversation, she started doing it again. It was the kind of sound that makes you scream inside.

When a nurse examined her, she said Mom needed a dentist to address the problem. This makes some sense, though I’m sure a dentist will recommend a bite protector of some kind. Mom had a night guard long ago. But somewhere in the transition from her home to mine, she “lost” it. It may have been one of those objects that became too mysterious for her. Once she forgot its purpose, she probably threw it away. My fear is that she’ll do the same thing again, but this time it will be a piece of “trash” purchased at 21st century prices.

One care professional recommended an anti-anxiety drug, suggesting that she is grinding her teeth because she is anxious. But from what we’ve observed, Mom appears to be totally at ease when it happens. Our medical doctor felt that a drug would not resolve the problem because most drugs are not designed to treat this symptom. Have any of you managed to solve the bruxism problem with your loved ones? Please share your recommendations if you have any.

Leave a Reply