Most people probably grind and clench their teeth from time to time. Occasional teeth grinding, medically called bruxism, does not usually cause harm, but when teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis the teeth can be damaged and other oral health complications can arise.
Why Do People Grind Their Teeth? Although teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, it often occurs during sleep and is more likely caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth. It can also be caused by a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.
How Do I Find Out if I Grind My Teeth? Because grinding often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. However, a dull, constant headache or sore jaw when you wake up is a telltale symptom of bruxism. Many times people learn that they grind their teeth by their loved one who hears the grinding at night. If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist. He or she can examine your mouth and jaw for signs of bruxism, such as jaw tenderness and excessive wear on your teeth.
Why Is Teeth Grinding Harmful? In some cases, chronic teeth grinding can result in a fracturing, loosening, or loss of teeth. The chronic grinding may wear teeth down to stumps. When these events happen, bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, partial dentures, and even complete dentures may be needed. Not only can severe grinding damage teeth and result in tooth loss, it can also affect your jaws, cause or worsen TMD/TMJ, and even change the appearance of your face.
What Can I Do to Stop Grinding My Teeth? Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding during sleep. If stress is causing you to grind your teeth, ask your doctor or dentist about options to reduce your stress. Attending stress counseling, starting an exercise program, seeing a physical therapist, or obtaining a prescription for muscle relaxants are among some of the options that may be offered. If a sleeping disorder is causing the grinding, treating it may reduce or eliminate the grinding habit. Other tips to help you stop teeth grinding include: Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as colas, chocolate, and coffee. Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption. Do not chew on pencils or pens or anything that is not food. Avoid chewing gum as it allows your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth. Train yourself not to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice that you clench or grind during the day, position the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This practice trains your jaw muscles to relax. Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm washcloth against your cheek in front of your earlobe.
If you’re keeping your family members awake at night with the sounds of your teeth clenching and grinding, you have a condition called bruxism.
Grinding or clenching your teeth usually occurs at night, and if it only happens occasionally, you may not be aware of it. But when bruxism becomes a regular occurrence, it may affect your dental health. Why Bruxism is So Damaging, when you grind or clench your teeth while sleeping, your conscious or rational brain has no control over the process – therefore, the force your jaws exert is three to ten times greater than during regular chewing. When you’re eating, part of the intensity of chewing is buffered by the food, but with sleep bruxism, your teeth receive the entire force of your jaws.
Signs of Bruxism: dull headaches, especially in the morning; sore, tired muscles in your jaw; and pain that radiates to your ear. You may also notice that your teeth are sensitive and beginning to wear down, or that they are chipped, cracked or starting to feel loose. The inside of your cheek may be damaged from chewing or biting it, and your tongue may also have indentations.
Causes of Bruxism: misaligned teeth or an improper bite can cause you to clench or grind your teeth. But for most adults, stress and anxiety are common causes – and if you already have a grinding habit, any increased stress in your life will cause it to worsen.
Bruxism can also be the result of acid reflux, the side effects of some medications or a complication of Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders often coincide with bruxism, and your risk of grinding and clenching increases if you smoke tobacco, drink caffeinated or alcoholic drinks or use illegal drugs.
Grinding and clenching are common in young children, usually due to misaligned teeth, allergies or an irritation in the mouth, such as teething. Fortunately, most children outgrow the habit by the time they are teens.
Dental Complications: Catching bruxism early is important because frequent grinding can remove some of the enamel from your teeth and, in more severe cases, expose the underlying layer of dentin. This can lead to sensitivity and tooth decay. Other outcomes from heavy grinding are flattened cusps and fractured teeth or fillings. If you are a grinder with sensitive teeth, toothpastes like Colgate® Enamel Health™ Sensitivity Relief are very helpful. Although rare, long-term bruxing can cause muscles in your face to enlarge from overuse, blocking the opening of your parotid salivary glands. This may lead to swelling, pain, inflammation and dry mouth. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is another possible outcome of bruxism that early treatment can prevent.
Signs of TMD include chronic pain or soreness in the joint area, clicking or popping sounds when chewing and difficulty opening your mouth.
Treatments even if you aren’t aware of grinding and clenching, your dentist may see signs when examining your teeth at a checkup appointment. Before recommending treatment options, he will want to determine the cause. If your grinding is the result of improper tooth alignment, he may suggest adjusting your bite or orthodontic treatment to realign your teeth. If your teeth are severely worn down or fractured, or you have broken fillings, your dentist may need to restore them with new fillings or crowns. To prevent further wear to your teeth, he will most likely recommend wearing a splint or a mouth guard at night. This separates your teeth so that they are not damaged by grinding or clenching.
Although teeth clenching and grinding are not life-threatening, many of the consequences of long-term bruxism can be difficult to live with. Whether your family is telling you that you’re grinding or you’re noticing the signs of bruxism yourself, it’s best to get to your dentist sooner rather than later to get the help you need to stop.