You’ve probably heard that it’s not that unusual for people to grind their teeth at night when they sleep, it’s a fairly common condition (known in medical terms as bruxism) but you may be surprised to learn that teeth grinding during the day is also prevalent and affects nearly 30 million Americans as well.
While daytime teeth grinding can be less intense than nighttime grinding (which can last for as long as 40 minutes for every hour of sleep) it tends to happen more frequently so the consequences can be just as serious. But no matter when your teeth grinding occurs, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of bruxism and be proactive with treatment in order to minimize its damaging effects.
Regardless of the time of day, most people don’t realize they are grinding and clenching their teeth because it’s often an unintended response to a stressful situation. While the cause of bruxism is not known, most medical experts agree that stress is a trigger and teeth grinding is a subconscious attempt to decrease stress levels. Unless your teeth grinding is loud enough to disturb others around you, it’s quite possible you may not be conscious of if it until the damage is too painful or obvious to ignore. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, they can be an indicator that you may be suffering from bruxism.
Extreme Tooth Sensitivity – meaning your teeth hurt when you eat, drink or even brush them. Because the pressure put on your teeth when you grind is nearly 10 times that of normal chewing, over time your tooth enamel, which serves as a protective coating to your teeth, will wear down. While tooth enamel is actually the hardest substance in your body, it can be broken easily and will never regenerate which is why it’s so important to protect. Once the underlying dentin is exposed, hot, cold, acidic and sticky foods will stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth and will cause extreme sensitivity and pain.
Constant Headaches and Jaw Pain -- because your jaw is capable of exerting more than 250 pounds of force (that’s strong enough to crack a walnut) when clenching, this puts undue stress on the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). These are the flexible joints found on each side of your head connecting your jaw to the temporal bone of the skull. They are the most active joints in your body and already endure a lot of wear and tear. Excessive clenching can cause joint inflammation that in turn can lead to headaches, facial and jaw pain.
If left untreated, excessive grinding can lead to more serious consequences including:
Permanent Tooth Damage: Over time, the consistent friction of grinding can cause your teeth to lose their natural contours so they become flat and even in length. Along with destroying your tooth enamel, excessive grinding can also result in fractures, micro cracks and broken teeth. Once this happens, expensive and time consuming dental restoration procedures are in your future.
Gum Disease. Unfortunately with bruxism, damage isn’t just limited to your teeth. Because clenching puts pressure on the teeth to move down toward the roots, the gums recede causing bacteria pockets to form which can lead to a host of other unpleasant consequences like increased plaque, infections and periodontal disease.
Far Reaching Health Issues -- 90% of bruxism sufferers also report experiencing one or more secondary symptoms that can include: migraine headaches, vertigo, hearing problems and laryngitis.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Bruxism affects men and women, young and old, across all races and socio economic levels. However, there are some additional factors that can increase your likelihood of suffering from bruxism.
Stress Levels – Since bruxism is believed to be a stress related condition, those with higher levels of stress may be more apt to grind their teeth as a stress reliever.
Lifestyle Choices -- prescription medications, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine intake can all increase the likelihood and intensity of bruxism.
Heredity -- Several studies have shown that there is a strong link between heredity and bruxism, it tends to “run in the family”.
Occlusal Misalignment -- Having an abnormal bite – meaning the teeth do not meet properly when the jaw closes has been linked to an increased likelihood of bruxism.
What to do about Bruxism?
The exact cause of bruxism is still not fully understood so there is currently no medication to treat it but there are some tips to help reduce its frequency and severity if you realize you are grinding your teeth or experiencing any early symptoms of bruxism.
Reduce Your Stress -- Since experts agree that stress and anxiety seem to be a trigger, finding ways to reduce stress can be a great way to minimize the future effects of bruxism, these can include diet modification, exercise, and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture.
Don’t Chew Things – Sounds funny but you can actually be guilty of coaxing your jaw into a clenching position. How? If you have a habit of chewing pens, pencils or chewing gum during the day as a way to alleviate stress, you may be getting your jaw muscles used to the 'art' of clenching. Chewing gum in excess of two hours per day encourages jaw muscles to clench which may increase your chances of grinding teeth when you are not chewing.
Relax Your Jaw Muscles --If you notice there are certain times of day you a prone to clenching, get into a routine of holding a warm washcloth against your cheek in front of your earlobe.
Wear a dental grind guard at night
If your teeth grinding is happening when you sleep, dental experts agree that wearing a well fitted, dental grind guard is an effective treatment in providing relief from the symptoms of bruxism. A dental grind guard provides a barrier between the upper and lower teeth, thus protecting the tooth enamel from rubbing together, preventing the negative effects of bruxism. Grind guards are removable and generally worn only when needed (i.e., at night or while sleeping).
Your teeth grinding doesn’t have to ruin your day or your teeth. The key is recognizing the symptoms and being proactive with treatment to minimize damage and protect your smile.