Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a condition that is affecting a growing number of people. There are many reasons why people start grinding their teeth or start with jaw clenching – some of them are quite surprising. Here are 12 facts about teeth grinding that might make your jaw drop.
- You can be a ‘bruxer’ and not know it. If you regularly wake up with sore jaw or a headache that goes away as the day goes on, you may well grind your teeth at night. If you don’t have a partner whose sleep is being disturbed, you might not realise what is causing the pain until you have a regular dental check-up. Actual grinding rather than clenching is most common at night and is usually more severe than during the day.
- There are two forms of bruxism. The first is when people actually grind their teeth together. The Bruxism Association likens this to chewing without food in your mouth. It causes the teeth to rub against each other without the buffer of food in between. The second form of bruxism is jaw clenching. It tends to be more common during the day and many people do this when angry, anxious or concentrating intensely. It becomes a problem if it turns into a habit.
- Around 8-10% of the population grind their teeth regularly. Most people will grind their teeth or go through a phase of jaw-clenching at some time in their lives, but a sizeable proportion do it on a regular enough basis to cause damage. It occurs most commonly in 25 – 44 year-olds.
- Many children grind their teeth. Often the appearance of milk teeth will set off a period of teeth grinding in small children. This may ease off after a while, only to reappear when the adult teeth come through. Possible reasons for this are the child getting used to having increasing numbers of teeth, as well as the alignment of the teeth themselves. Britain’s NHS reports that one in five children under the age of 11 grind their teeth. This figure could, however, be higher, as many parents don’t notice that their children are grinding their teeth.
- Teeth grinding is noisy. The noise has been compared to that made by loud snoring, a pneumatic drill or fingernails screeching down a blackboard. It can lead to disturbed nights for both the bruxer and their partner.
- Stress can cause teeth grinding. Studies conducted over the last six years have discovered some interesting facts about the relationship between teeth grinding and stress. Just as aggressive behavior – throwing things, shouting or actually hitting something – can relieve stress levels, grinding your teeth can be a way the body more passively deals with stress. Findings show that up to 70% of bruxism cases can be pinpointed as stress-related.
- Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can cause serious damage. Grinding your teeth surfaces together can wear through the protective enamel layer quite quickly. This exposes the softer inner layers of the teeth and these are ground away even faster. Both regular jaw clenching and grinding put strain on the muscles and ligaments of the jaw. This can cause pain on waking and may over time cause your jaw to pop or click when you open or close it. With a constant jaw clenching pain, it can be uncomfortable to eat.
- Your job may be causing you to grind your teeth. Anxiety about work is the number one cause of stress-related teeth grinding. Also, as we become more available wherever we are due to mobile technology, many people find it hard to get totally away from work and relax.
- Good at school? That may cause your bruxism. Students who are high-achievers at school or college may well be teeth grinders. Anxieties can be raised in these young people due to the pressure of always being expected to do well academically. This can manifest itself in night-time teeth grinding through stress.
- Sleep disorders can cause teeth grinding. Sleep disorders such as snoring, talking in your sleep and sleep apnoea (lengthy pauses in breathing during sleep) can all contribute to teeth grinding. All of these conditions disturb sleep to a point where the sleeper is no longer in a deep sleep and bruxism is more likely to happen. The more often the sleeper comes up into the lighter layers of sleep, the higher the chances of teeth grinding.
- Your lifestyle choices can cause teeth grinding. Heavy smoking, high caffeine or alcohol intake and the habitual use of ‘recreational’ drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine can all prompt teeth grinding. It is also possible for the use or over-use of medicines prescribed for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and, rather ironically sleep disorders to trigger teeth grinding.
- Having a tooth extracted can trigger teeth grinding. Removal of a tooth, particularly one at the back of your mouth such as a wisdom tooth, can alter your ‘bite’ or the way your teeth connect with each other when you close your mouth. This can be uncomfortable and can cause the start of teeth grinding. Also, misalignment of the teeth or having too many teeth in your jaw can be a trigger.
So what can be done about teeth grinding and jaw clenching?
Dentists have traditionally treated teeth grinding with mouth guards and shields that are customised for each patient. These resemble the shields worn in some contact sports, but are usually less bulky and more comfortable to wear. They can be made from a variety of materials, depending on the precise issues they are designed to cure. Acrylic, soft rubber or a laminate material are the most common materials used. They provide a buffer between the two sets of teeth and can also greatly reduce the nose of grinding, reducing disruption of the sleep patterns for both the sufferer and his or her partner.
As this helps to ease the vicious circle of stress caused by sleep deprivation, it can also help reduce the spells of stress-related teeth grinding. Not everyone finds the shields comfortable to wear, however, and they often don’t stop the teeth grinding. Some people find that they just chew through the shields or that they are on the floor in the morning, having been spat out in the night.
Physical relaxation techniques have helped some people ‘unlearn’ the habit of grinding their teeth and train their jaw muscles not to clench.
A number of drug therapies for teeth grinding are available, but they seem to have limited success and need more research to determine the root cause. A muscle relaxant taken before bed for a short period of time can sometimes help in relaxing the jaw muscles. However, the side effects of some of these jaw clenching remedies can be severe and unpleasant.
Another remedy is injections of Botox, which have helped people with severe teeth grinding problems to partially and temporarily relax the jaw muscles that promote teeth grinding and clenching. The Bruxism Association reports that, so far, results have been encouraging.
Where misaligned teeth is causing the teeth grinding, your dentist will advise on remedies.
Reducing the stress levels in your life may well be the cure for your teeth grinding. However, it isn’t always that easy to achieve. If your condition is being caused by one of the other triggers, it may be that a change in lifestyle or a visit to your dentist will set you on the right road.