Teeth grinding, or Bruxism as it is known in the dental profession, is involuntary clenching, grinding and gnashing of the teeth. It most commonly happens at night or during sleep. However, some people subconsciously grind their teeth while awake, out of habit. Bruxism can happen in both children and adults of any age. It is estimated that between 8% – 10% of the population grind their teeth. The exact causes of bruxism are not fully proven. However, it is believed to be stress-related and induced by emotional factors such as anxiety, anger, frustration and nervousness.
People who grind their teeth while sleeping – known as sleep bruxers by the Bruxism Association – often don’t know they grind their teeth and will only find out when their partner tells them or their dentist detects the signs of damage at a dental check-up.
Sleep grinding can be extremely noisy. The sound of teeth grinding has been likened to a rat gnawing or even an AK47 being fired.
In a survey of 180 people in the UK and Ireland, 97.8% of participants said they grind their teeth while they sleep. However, only 33.3% of those are aware that they are doing it.
Not everyone has a partner to point out the problem, but there are certain symptoms that can warn you of bruxism. They include:
- Jaw or face pain or soreness
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Dull headache, originating in the temples
- Tired or tight jaw muscles
- Excessive wear on the teeth
- Damage on the inside part of your cheek due to chewing
Dr Jason Popper, of Incredible Implants, says: “When I evaluate patients to see if they are grinding, I look for wear on each tooth, muscle soreness in the jaw, specifically in the morning, and broken teeth.”
Periodontist, Dr Eugene Gamble, who has treated Hollywood legends Al Pacino and John Travolta, looks for “well-developed muscles around the jaw”. He says, “You would see that the teeth are shorter than normal, have flat surfaces instead of the usual cusps and pits that we expect to see and possible chipped teeth.”
Aside from a poor night’s sleep and aching jaw in the morning, grinding your teeth can lead to some serious damage being caused, both short and long-term, if left untreated.
Short-term effects of teeth grinding include frequent headaches or migraines. Studies have shown that people who grind their teeth are three times more likely to experience regular headaches than those who do not.
Dr Peters, of Peters Dental Associates, says: “Teeth grinding leads to excessive pressure being placed on one’s jaw. The jaw is the human skull’s largest bone, and as such it is able to withstand substantial pressure. When the excessive pressure becomes habitual, the result can lead to painful conditions, which include headaches.”
Dr Daniel Rubinshtein says: “Teeth grinding puts lots of force on the TMJ (temporomandibular joint), as well as the associated muscles and that can bring tension, which in turn brings on the headaches.”
Many of Dr Sandra J Eleczko’s patients complain of tension headaches. Of these, she says: “Think about overusing any other muscle, and the pain that will cause. Grinding of the teeth is no different; these muscles are stressed out from overuse.”
Other consequences include:
- Chronic teeth grinding may wear the teeth down to stumps. In these circumstances, bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, partial dentures and even complete dentures may be needed
- Tooth loss and gum recession
- Clicking or popping jaw joint
- Excessive facial muscle tone
In the survey of 180 people in the UK and Ireland, 45% of those who grind their teeth have sought medical treatment. Some 31% of that treatment included mouth guards and bite splints.
In the survey of 180 people in the UK and Ireland, 31.7% said they were aware of the impact of untreated teeth grinding.
The remaining 68.3% are unaware. Three types of people are included in this figure:
- Bruxers who are aware that they’re doing it and have not sought medical treatment
- Bruxers who are aware that they’re doing it and have sought medical treatment
- Bruxers who are not aware that they’re doing it and have not sought medical treatment
According to Dr Popper, “When grinding and, or clenching goes untreated, the patient has an increased chance of broken teeth, sore muscles, hypersensitivity, as well as the likelihood that their teeth will get worn down over time, changing the bite.”
Dr Gamble says early intervention is extremely important to minimise the impact that grinding can have on your teeth. “Remember, this is the only part of your body that cannot regenerate. Once a piece of tooth is gone, it is gone forever.”
Bruxism is the term used in the dental profession for teeth grinding.
In the survey, 68% of people in the UK and Ireland said they did not know what the word bruxism meant.
Some 32% said they were aware of the different medical terms for teeth grinding. Most of that figure is made up of people who have gone to the dentist and sought medical treatment.
Dr Gamble believes patients should be well informed. “By understanding medical terms, you have knowledge that closes the information gap between what the dentist is saying and what you know. I would always recommend you ask if you are unsure of anything. It is your body and health so you have a right to know what’s going on.”
Dr Popper says, “It’s important to differentiate between clenching and grinding, so the patient and dentist can work out a plan to alleviate the symptoms and further issues that could develop.”