Teeth grinding, or Bruxism as it is known in the dental profession, is a relatively common condition affecting about 8 to 10% of the population, mostly in the 25 to 44-year-old age bracket.
Most teeth grinding happens at night when asleep, so many sufferers – or bruxers, as the Bruxism Association calls them – don’t even realise they grind their teeth until told by their bed-partner, their dentist notices the abnormal wear on their teeth at a regular check-up, or they go to their doctor to get treatment for their mysterious jaw pain or recurring morning headaches.
At its worst, bruxers can spend several hours a night grinding away at their teeth, usually when either their sleep is disturbed by another disorder, or in the normal course of the shifting patterns of sleep levels, from deep to light. While this may be just a dental problem for the lone sleeper, it can cause real problems in a relationship.
The partners of some teeth grinding sufferers report that the noise levels they have to contend with at night are on a par with those of a chronic snorer. The noise itself is likened to fingernails scraping back and forth on a blackboard – difficult to live with on a long-term basis.
If you’re going through similar problems, you might like to know the experiences some bruxers and their partners report but be warned – they don’t make for cheerful reading.
The beginning of the end
One partner of a tooth grinder says that his girlfriend’s bruxism was one of the major factors in their 21-year relationship coming to an end. He admits that there were other, possibly bigger issues, underlying the split but that the teeth grinding provided a catalyst for all the other tensions in their relationship.
He was being woken as many as four times a night and likened it to having a new-born in the family. His partner was reluctant to get treatment for the problem but did eventually get a gum shield that was so uncomfortable she wouldn’t wear it.
It was impossible for him to get a good night’s sleep. He eventually ended up spending most of his nights on the sofa and, in his own words – “when that starts happening, it’s the beginning of the end.”
A pneumatic drill
One bruxer, Sue, lived alone and only realised that she had begun grinding her teeth in her sleep when she started to wake in the mornings with jaw pain and headaches, following the death of her mother from cancer. Her teeth began to break down and treatment for the bruxism didn’t help. Five years later, she met her partner Kevin and her teeth grinding began to cause more than dental problems.
Her partner said the grinding sounded like a pneumatic drill and kept him awake. He would often have to go and sleep downstairs because the noise was so bad. Sue says the lack of sleep would make them both irritable with each other and Kevin would often be annoyed with her because he’d been kept awake half the night by the incessant teeth grinding.
Sue says it put a huge strain on their lives and they began having arguments, which eventually led to the breakdown of their relationship after just three years.
Another teeth grinder reports that she used to wake up her boyfriend regularly with the awful noise she made with her teeth. “He’d have his fingers in his ears because the screeching noise put his teeth on edge so much,” she said. He tried earplugs but nothing could dim the horrendous racket.
She did try a mouth guard to alleviate the problem, but would wake in the morning to find the guard on the floor and her partner in the spare room. They eventually went their separate ways when he almost ran his car into a tree, because he fell asleep at the wheel through lack of sleep.
So it would seem that teeth grinding can put every bit as much strain on a relationship as snoring, financial difficulty or any other disruptive daily stressor. Sleep deprivation is an incredibly debilitating and destructive thing to have to combat and can cause severe bouts of depression and anxiety, both of which tend to make the teeth grinding worse.
There are some treatments for bruxism, including mouth guards, medical devices, correctional dental work, hypnotherapy and even botox injections into the jaw muscles to relax them, so sufferers have to persist in finding what works for them.