Most people who grind their teeth tend do so at night, while they are sleeping. As you can imagine, it often goes undetected, that is until the symptoms and resulting tooth damage are too painful to ignore. But this doesn’t have to be the case, if treated early, bruxism, (the medical term for teeth grinding), can be managed and its affects minimized – you just need to know what to look for and if you determine you are grinding your teeth at night, what you can do about it.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is a common condition that affects 1 in 5 adults in the US, so before you think it won’t happen to you, think again. While the exact cause of bruxism is not known, most medical experts agree that teeth grinding and clenching is a natural reaction to stress and more often than not it occurs subconsciously. Unfortunately, stress and teeth grinding can become a vicious cycle – teeth grinding frequently disrupts sleep, lack of sleeps causes stress and anxiety which in turn leads to more teeth grinding….you see the pattern here.
Some initial symptoms of bruxism can include extreme tooth sensitivity – you may notice your teeth hurt when you eat or drink something or even when brushing them because the friction of the grinding is causing the enamel to breakdown, exposing the nerves. Also, if you are waking up with a sore or fatigued jaw or dull headache, this is a telltale sign as the jaw is capable of exerting more than 250 pounds of force when clenching which can cause distress on the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) the flexible joints found on each side your head in front of your ear, connecting your lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull resulting in headaches as well as pain in the neck and face.
Over time excessive grinding can lead to more serious dental issues including loose teeth, micro-cracks, fractures, tooth loss as well as gum recession, infections and periodontal disease. And if that’s not bad enough, 90% of bruxism sufferers also report experiencing one or more secondary symptoms that can include migraine headaches, vertigo, hearing problems and laryngitis.
While there is no medication currently available to treat bruxism there are a number of things you can do to help mitigate the effects and avoid recurrence, the key is being proactive.
Don't Encourage Your Jaw to Clench
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. Did you know, for example, chewing gum in excess of two hours per day encourages jaw muscles to clench, and may increase your chances of grinding your teeth when you are not chewing? Unfortunately, your jaw may decide to repeat the action while you are sleeping
I know this is easier said than done but finding natural ways to reduce stress can help to minimize the effects of bruxism, these can include diet modification, exercise, and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture.
Be Mindful of Certain Substances
Prescription medications, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine intake have all been linked to a potential increase in the likelihood as well as the level of intensity of bruxism.
Wear a Dental Grind Guard
Wearing a grind guard can be the single, most 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).
There are many dental grind guards on the market, however custom-fit products by dentists are expensive may require multiple visits. Many off-the-shelf grind guards may not fit properly, can be easily chewed through, or their material composition may be simply uncomfortable to wear.