Have you ever felt that uncomfortable twinge of pain on your teeth when you eat or drink something extremely cold or hot? If so, then you know what it feels like to experience tooth sensitivity but what you probably didn’t know is that it’s one of the early indicators that you might be grinding your teeth.
Bruxism (the medical term for tooth grinding) is a fairly common condition that affects nearly 1 in 5 adults in the US. Medical experts believe that teeth grinding is our subconscious attempt to decrease stress levels but because we tend to grind while we sleep, bruxism often goes undetected until the symptoms are too painful or obvious to ignore.
Tooth sensitivity happens gradually but is often the result of bruxism. The pressure exerted on our teeth when we grind is nearly 10 times that of normal chewing. Grinding consistently wears down tooth enamel, which is the outer most layer of the tooth and provides a protective coating. While tooth enamel is actually the hardest substance in the body, it can be broken easily because it is so brittle and will never regenerate. Once the underlying dentin, which is a tissue containing hollow canals called tubules, is exposed, hot, cold, acidic and sticky foods stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth which is the cause of that twinge of pain and makes it uncomfortable to eat, drink or even brush.
What are the Long Term Effects of Bruxism?
Along with destroying tooth enamel, over time, the intense pressure clenching puts on our teeth can also cause them to crack, split, or fracture. When we’ve reached this point, the only treatment option is expensive and time consuming dental procedures such as root canals, implants, bridges, or dentures.
But the damage isn’t just limited to our teeth. Because clenching puts pressure on our teeth to move down toward the roots, the gums recede causing bacteria pockets to form which can lead to other unintended consequences like increased plaque, 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
There’s no denying that the long term effects of bruxism can be quite serious which is why it is important to be proactive with identifying bruxism symptoms, and then taking preventative steps to avoid recurrence.
What to Look/Listen for
In addition to tooth sensitivity, some of the obvious telltale signs of bruxism are waking up with sore, or fatigued jaw muscles; or with a dull headache or waking up your partner or spouse with the unsettling sound of enamel grinding against enamel.
How to Reduce the Likelihood of Bruxism
Find Ways to De-stress
Unfortunately, stress and teeth grinding can become a vicious cycle – teeth grinding frequently disrupts sleep, lack of sleep causes stress and anxiety which in turn leads to more teeth grinding. 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.
Don't Encourage Clenching
We can actually be guilty of coaxing our jaws into a clenching position by chewing pens, pencils or gum during the day as a way to alleviate stress. This may be getting our jaw muscles used to the 'art' of clenching. For example, chewing gum in excess of two hours per day encourages jaw muscles to clench, and may increase chances of teeth grinding when we are not chewing. Unfortunately, the jaw may decide to repeat this action while we are sleeping.
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.
Check Bite Alignment
Having an abnormal bite, which means the teeth do not meet properly when the jaw closes is known in technical terms as occlusal misalignment, and has been linked to an increased likelihood of bruxism.
Wear a Dental Grind Guard at Night
While there is no medication currently available to treat bruxism, dental experts agree that wearing a dental grind guard is the most effective treatment to mitigate symptoms and prevent permanent tooth damage.
A well- fitting dental grind guard prevents the teeth from coming into contact with each other, thereby providing a barrier from the tooth enamel rubbing together. Dental grind guards are removable and generally worn only when needed (i.e., at night while sleeping).
By reducing the likelihood and negative effects caused by bruxism, Ora-GUARD™ dental grind guard is an effective treatment in preventing damage to the teeth caused by bruxism and teeth grinding.
Its patented Bite Plate Wedge design not only protects tooth surfaces from the damaging effects of grinding, it allows for natural breathing and airflow. Preventing teeth grinding during sleep through the use of a dental grind guard may be one way to achieve a better night’s sleep.
Bruxism Doesn’t Have to be a Grind.While teeth grinding can lead to tooth sensitivity and more serious health issues over time, the good news is the pain and damage from bruxism can be minimized by recognizing the early signs and taking steps to reduce its frequency and severity.