Our teeth are normally meant to bite and chew. However, too much biting and chewing can damage them. In the long term, the friction can wear the enamel off our teeth. Teeth grinding is also known as bruxism. It is a condition characterised by grinding, clenching or gnashing of the teeth. You may unconsciously grind your teeth during the day, or you might be grinding teeth in sleep. If you grind your teeth while sleeping, it is known as sleep bruxism – and you have probably other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or snoring.
Most people grind and clench their teeth in certain situations from time to time. This does not mean that we all have bruxism. Occasional teeth grinding is normal and does not harm our teeth. However, if teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis, it can damage our teeth permanently, leading to complications.
What causes teeth grinding?
The real cause of bruxism is often not known, nor fully understood. However, certain medical conditions, as well as psychological and physical causes are thought to cause it. Teeth grinding causes include:
- Complications following Parkinson’s disease
- Complications following Huntington’s disease
- Malocclusion of the upper and lower teeth
- GERD – gastro esophageal reflux disease
- Sleep problems such as sleep apnea or snoring
- Side-effects from various medications such as antidepressants and phenothiazines
- Certain personality types such as compulsive, competitive, aggressive and hyperactive personality types
- Stress, nervousness, anxiety, frustration and anger
Risk factors for teeth grinding
Certain factors are known to increase the risk of bruxism. These include:
- Age – teeth grinding is more common among children and teenagers. This condition tends to resolve after the teenage years
- Stress – normally stressful situations, nervousness, anxiety, frustration or anger can increase the risk of teeth grinding
- The use of stimulating substances – such as smoking tobacco, alcohol consumption, caffeinated drinks or the use of illegal drugs all increase the risk of teeth grinding
What are the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding?
Bruxism is common among men and women, and it can occur at any age even though it is more common among children. Signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
- Teeth grinding which can be heard by your partner or family members during the night
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Fractured teeth
- Missing teeth
- Chipped or loose teeth
- Worn enamel of the teeth
- Dull and constant headache in the temples when you wake
- Jaw pain when you wake
- Facial pain when you wake, often similar to an earache
- Damage of the inside part of your cheeks due to chewing
- Tongue indentations
You’ll need a dental check-up and proper treatment for your condition to prevent further damage to your teeth. Seek professional medical help any time you are aware of teeth grinding, or if your partner or other family members tell you that you grind your teeth while sleeping.
Seek professional medical help if you wake up with a dull and constant headache, including pain in the temples, face and around your ears or if your teeth become sensitive, worn and damaged.
Bear in mind that bruxism usually does not cause serious complications. However, in severe cases, tension headaches as well as damage to your teeth or jaw may occur.
How is teeth grinding diagnosed?
As teeth grinding occurs mostly during sleep, many people don’t realise that they grind their teeth. One of the symptoms that leads toward the diagnosis is having a sore jaw when you wake up, often accompanied by a dull headache. Often, partners or family members will tell you that you’re grinding your teeth while sleeping, which will help you get a speedy diagnosis and the necessary treatment.
If, for any reason, you suspect that you grind your teeth at night, you should consult your dentist. He or she will examine your oral cavity and teeth to find any signs of bruxism, such as excessive wear on the teeth. Your dentist will look for any changes to your teeth and mouth during the next several visits to accurately evaluate the condition. He or she will check for:
- Damage to your teeth
- Damage to the inside of your cheeks
- Damage to the underlying bone, usually with the help of an X-ray examination
- Any dental abnormality such as missing teeth, a broken teeth or poor tooth alignment
- The presence or absence of jaw muscle tenderness
How is teeth grinding treated?
In most cases, teeth grinding does not require treatment. Children normally stop grinding their teeth as they get older, while adults usually do not grind their teeth so badly as to require medical treatment. However, if teeth grinding is severe and damage to the oral cavity occurs, several treatment options are available including certain types of medications, therapies as well as various dental approaches.
When it comes to medications, they are mostly not effective. However, occasionally muscle relaxants or Botox injections are successfully used. Muscle relaxants are prescribed for a short period of time and they are usually recommended just before sleep. Botox injections are one of the last-resort treatment options in cases of severe bruxism when other options have failed to resolve the problem.
Certain therapies such as behavioral therapy, stress management or biofeedback are also used to treat bruxism.
As to the dental approaches, dental correction as well as splints and mouth guards are mostly used to treat bruxism. If your condition is related to dental problems, correction of these problems will help. If, due to bruxism, your teeth are so worn out, you may need dental crowns and the chewing surface of your teeth reshaped.
Splints and mouth guards are designed to separate your teeth, and so prevent grinding. These dental devices are usually made of soft materials as well as hard acrylic, and they are custom-made to fit perfectly onto your upper and lower teeth. You’ll need to wear them at night while sleeping, as this is when you are most likely to grind and clench your teeth.
Tips to stop grinding teeth in sleep
Here are some tips that can help you stop grinding your teeth:
- Avoid alcohol as teeth grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption
- Avoid food and drinks that contain caffeine. Reduce the amount of chocolate and coffee you eat and drink a day
- Avoid chewing things that are not food. Many people tend to chew pens, pencils or paper
- Avoid chewing gum
- Try to relax your jaw muscles especially at night before you go to sleep by holding a warm facecloth against your cheek
- Train yourself constantly not to grind your teeth