The image of a person grinding their teeth in anger is one we can all relate to, but anger isn’t always involved. Teeth grinding is common and occurs for all sorts of reasons. If left unchecked, it can wreak havoc on teeth, seriously damaging them.
Approximately 80% of teeth grinding cases happen when the person is asleep, so they often can’t tell they have a problem. Most people discover it thanks to their partner – whose sleep is disturbed by the noise – but not everyone has a partner to point it out.
Do you grind your teeth? If you’re experiencing the symptoms, don’t rule it out. What about your parents, siblings or children – are they grinding their teeth? Studies have concluded that bruxism, as it is known, appears to be hereditary and Dentists agree that teeth grinding ‘runs in families’.
But the crux of the problem is this: if you’re asleep at the time, how can you tell if you’re grinding your teeth? What are tell-tale signs that all is not well? You may well have been grinding your teeth nightly since childhood and have no idea you’re doing it. It is estimated that about 15% of children grind their teeth, outgrowing the habit by adolescence.
Even if you have no history of grinding, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Since teeth grinding is often related to stress, you can begin doing it at any stage in life.
There are certain symptoms that can warn you of bruxism. They include:
- A dull headache on waking
- Chronic facial pain
- Ear ringing
- A sore jaw in the morning
- Locked jaw
- Excessive wear on the teeth
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Damage on the inside part of your cheek due to chewing
- Indentations on the tongue
- Inflammation and blockage of the salivary glands
- Inflammation and dryness of the mouth
- Teeth grinding so loud that it wakes your partner
A dull headache on waking
Grinding your teeth has been shown to cause tension-type headaches, and these can happen at any time of the day. If you experience a dull headache on waking, it might be a sign that you’re grinding teeth in sleep.
If the headache occurs during the day only, it may be due to stress or anxiety. Apart from headaches, earaches are common among teeth grinders.
A sore jaw in the morning
As with any other muscle in the body, the muscles that enable you to move your jaw can become sore after intense activity. The jaw muscles contract to close the mouth, and a period of teeth grinding will involve a lot of contraction, leading to soreness.
Sometimes, the jaw muscles can be sore due to the sleeping position, but if the neck muscles are not sore too, the soreness should be taken as a sign of bruxism. The pain coming from jaw clenching can also spread around the side of the face, causing the entire area to become sore.
Excessive wear on the teeth
The teeth are covered by enamel, the hardest substance in the body. Being so tough, it maintains its shape and colour for years and does not damage quickly or easily. People often fail to notice enamel damage themselves, but a dentist will notice unusually extensive wear to the teeth during routine dental check-ups. Once you describe your symptoms, they can tell whether or not you are suffering from bruxism.
Dental attrition is the most common type of tooth wear noticed in bruxism cases. This type of wear is caused by tooth-to-tooth contact, resulting in loss of tooth tissue, usually starting at the incisal or occlusal surface.
An abfraction is another form of damage caused by grinding. It is an angular notch at the gum line caused by bending forces applied to the tooth. An abrasion is a rounded notch at the gum line that may be visibly indistinguishable from an abfraction, although in cross-section abrasions are not as angular and have more of a saucer-like appearance.
In extreme conditions, the individual’s teeth become loose, fractured or chipped. This usually happens if the condition is left unattended for a long period of time.
In some cases, the affected individual may also experience locked jaw on waking, which is the result of the jaw muscles being strained. Again, this does not automatically indicate that they are suffering from bruxism, but it can be a tell-tale sign of the condition.
However, many people who grind their teeth at night have no signs or symptoms at all. These asymptomatic bruxers, despite their intense teeth grinding, have adapted their muscles to the activity. Hence, they do not develop pain or other symptoms over a long period of time, making such cases difficult to diagnose.
Also, the degree of the damage to the teeth isn’t always related to the intensity and frequency of tooth grinding while asleep. Other factors can play an important role in the damage process, including the presence of systemic diseases that affect the health of the mouth cavity, acid intake, saliva production, and enamel quality.
So, seek medical help if your partner says you are grinding your teeth while sleeping, or you have noticed that your teeth have become worn, sensitive and damaged, or you have headaches in the morning when you wake, often accompanied by facial pain, earache, and ringing in the ears. Of course, if teeth grinding in children occurs, you should seek medical help.
Some symptoms of bruxism such as facial pain will disappear as soon as you stop grinding your teeth, while other symptoms such as tooth damage can be permanent and need dental treatment.
Remember that bruxism is a common medical condition affecting both men and women. It is also treatable, so a correct and timely diagnosis will preserve your teeth, preventing further damage. If left untreated, bruxism can lead to serious damage of your teeth, and affect your overall health.
Tips to stop grinding teeth
Have you been diagnosed with bruxism? Are you wondering how to actually stop grinding your teeth while asleep? Here are some tips that will help:
- Avoid stress
- Relax your jaw muscles, especially before going to sleep. Use a warm facecloth and hold it against your cheek
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption as it will intensify your teeth grinding
- Avoid eating chewy sweets such as wine gums
- Avoid caffeine in the evening
- Avoid chewing things that are not food, such as paper, pencils, and pens
Enjoy deep, healing sleep that gives your teeth a rest too!