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
The Mayo Clinic describes signs of grinding and clenching as 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, according to the Mayo Clinic, 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, and the American Dental Association Mouth Healthy site says it’s 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.
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.
Although rare, Wayne State University says that, 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.
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.