Most of us grind our teeth or clench our jaws at one time or another. Repetitive grinding, however, is not a regular habit that our teeth are made to withstand. This chronic behavior is known as bruxism, a common habit that can occur at night or during the day. Unfortunately, untreated teeth grinding can have serious, lasting effects on your health. Early detection of bruxism is the key to help prevent pain and significant damage to your mouth.
Here’s a look at the common signs of bruxism, effects of chronic grinding and what you can do to stop it.
Bruxism and its impact on your health. Over time, chronic teeth grinding can take a toll on your oral health as well as overall health. One of the most common complications of bruxism is damaged teeth, as persistent grinding can wear down the outer enamel layer of a tooth. This can lead to increased sensitivity of the tooth and even decay. In some cases, the excessive pressure from grinding may wear enamelso severely to result in fracturing, loosening or loss of teeth.
It is also not uncommon for ongoing clenching and grinding to place excessive pressure on the jaw, which contributes to disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). As a result, you may experience pain in the jaw joint, difficulty chewing, and a clicking sound when opening or closing the jaw.
Identifying teeth grinding symptoms. It may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of your teeth grinding behavior, but signs of bruxism are usually clear. Most often, teeth grinding occurs unknowingly during sleep. For this reason, many people who have sleep-related bruxism aren’t even aware that they grind their teeth, unless otherwise informed by a sleep partner. For others, a dentist may detect worn or fractured tooth enamel during a routine dental exam.
The following telltale signs may signal that you are habitually grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw:
- Clenching or grinding of the teeth that is loud enough to wake your sleep partner
- Trouble sleeping or interrupted sleep
- Headaches that start at the temples, especially upon waking
- Pain that radiates from the ear, but is not related to an actual earache
- Teeth that are increasingly sensitive to hot and cold foods or drinks
- A sore or tired jaw
- Damage to the inside of the cheek from chewing
- Increasingly worn teeth, including flattened cusps and loose teeth
Causes of bruxism and what you can do. The exact cause of bruxism is uncertain and varies for each individual. For many adults, teeth grinding is correlated to times of stress. Intense feelings of anger and anxiety may even exacerbate the grinding behavior. Having a family history of bruxism may increase your risk for teeth grinding, as will taking certain medications, such as antidepressants.
Others may experience chronic clenching or grinding due to an abnormal bite—when the top and bottom teeth do not come together properly. Similarly, having teeth that are missing or crooked can trigger clenching or grinding.
For many people, putting an end to teeth grinding or clenching is difficult when it occurs during sleep. If stress is to blame for your bruxism symptoms, you may be able to reduce stress levels by practicing relaxation techniques. Most often, professional treatment from a dentist is the best way to prevent bruxism and correct damage caused by grinding. A dentist can help determine the underlying cause of bruxism and recommend the best course for treatment, such as orthodontics to correct a misaligned bite or a nighttime oral appliance that protects the upper teeth from grinding against the lower teeth.
Although common, chronic bruxism should not be taken lightly. It is important to address signs of teeth grinding as soon as you notice them to avoid more serious complications, such as tooth fractures, disruptive headaches and painful jaw disorders. If you suspect that you are grinding your teeth, talk to your doctor or dentist about your symptoms. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can put your bruxism and bothersome symptoms to rest. Consult the complementary guide for further information on teeth grinding