Do you grind your teeth? Even if you don’t think so, there’s a chance that you are among the estimated ten percent of people who grind their teeth subconsciously — a condition with the clinical name of bruxism.
Many bruxism sufferers grind their teeth without even realizing that it’s happening. The grinding most commonly happens at night, when the person is deeply asleep. Some people grind their teeth for years without being aware of this nightly habit (which can also happen while awake as a subconscious behavior). Usually it’s the development of one of bruxism’s negative side effects that triggers people to become aware of the problem.
What happens when you grind your teeth?
Grinding one’s teeth happens when a person clenches their jaw muscles, applying pressure on the teeth. During sleep, this happens in a rhythmic motion that rubs the surface of the top and bottom teeth together. Making a habit of bruxism has a number of downsides, some of them serious.
The most common symptoms that many bruxism sufferers get is regular headaches or aches and pains in the jaw and neck. The repetitive tension and muscle force can throw nerves out of whack and also lead to a dull pain in the teeth and jaws.
After being left untreated for years, bruxism can begin to wear away at the teeth. The edges of the teeth get ground away, and enamel is removed. Losing enamel is a serious issue because it can’t be regenerated. Lacking enamel on your teeth makes them vulnerable to decay and damage; it can also cause people to experience sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures in their mouths.
Long-term teeth grinders also sometimes develop what’s known as tori mandibularis: small, bony growths that appear around the bottom teeth. They can cause nerve damage and also make it difficult to wear protective gear like mouthguards.
How can you stop grinding your teeth?
If you’d like to stop grinding your teeth — or at least mitigate its negative effects — the most common treatment method is to wear a protective device. What’s known as an occlusal appliance is the most common choice. These removable mouthguards fit over both sets of teeth and prevent the teeth from making contact, limiting damage from the grinding motion. They are generally worn at night when the person is sleeping. Another option is what’s known as mandibular advancement devices, which bring your jaw forward to avoid contact between the top and bottom teeth.
Both wearable solutions can lessen the effects of teeth grinding, but they won’t address the underlying cause.
What Causes Bruxism?
Grinding teeth can be caused by a number of different things. Some are lifestyle related — the habit has been linked with use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, though the strength of the correlation is not clear. It’s also connected with high-stress lifestyles and anger. When any of these causes appear to be at play, the best solution is to make a lifestyle change. Dentists often recommend that patients try meditation to reduce stress levels, or limit their intake of substances like caffeine.
There also appears to be a strong connection between teeth grinding and conditions like sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea or other underlying sleep disorders will often help to end or reduce tooth grinding. Mandibular advancement devices are commonly used for bruxism patients with sleep apnea as they help to align the jaw for easier breathing during sleep.
If you’re not sure what could be causing you to grind your teeth, your best bet is to visit the dentist and talk it over with a professional to ensure the most effective treatment options for lasting relief from bruxism.
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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.