Teeth Grinding: the Dangers, Causes and Solutions

Do you ever wake up or go to sleep with sore, tired or strained jaw muscles, sensitive teeth or tension headaches? If so, you could be suffering from bruxism.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is better known as teeth grinding, grinding of the teeth or gnashing of the teeth and is fairly self-explanatory. Teeth should only touch each other when you chew, swallow or talk. Studies have shown that this occurs for 15-30 minutes per day.

Teeth grinding is divided into two categories: sleep bruxism and awake bruxism. They have slightly different causes and effects, but are still very similar problems.

According to the Mayo Clinic, awake bruxism can be due to emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, frustration or tension, or it may be a coping strategy or a habit during deep concentration. Sleep bruxism, on the other hand, may be a sleep-related chewing activity associated with arousals during sleep.

Regardless, they are both subconscious behaviours that come with a rather serious list of potential complications:

  • Cracked enamel
  • Excessive wear and tear on the teeth
  • Broken teeth or restorations
  • Strain on the jaw and jaw muscles
  • Enlargement of the jaw muscles

If left untreated, a person with bruxism can eventually grind away enough of their teeth that the soft pulp inside the tooth becomes visible. As with any other muscle, your jaw muscles will adapt to the strain they are put under, and grow larger and stronger over time.

Signs & symptoms

Here’s a list of symptoms to look out for, according to Dental Health Services Victoria:

  • Grinding sounds while the person is asleep
  • Headache, jaw joint or ear pain
  • Aching teeth – particularly upon waking
  • Aching or stiffness of the face and temples upon waking
  • Aching or stiffness in the jaws while chewing – particularly during breakfast
  • Clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Cracked or chipped tooth enamel
  • Tooth indentations on the tongue
  • Raised tissue on the cheek caused by cheek biting
  • Wobbly teeth

It’s hard to know what you’re actually doing while you’re asleep, and many who suffer from sleep bruxism won’t realise until a serious problem occurs or until a loved one brings up the sound of teeth grinding at night.

What causes bruxism?

Science is still not entirely sure what causes bruxism, which means that we have many different risk factors, and one or more of these could trigger bruxism in you:

  • Emotional stress, anger or anxiety
  • Physical effort or physical stress – illness, nutritional deficiency or dehydration
  • Mental concentration
  • Sleep problems
  • Malocclusion
  • Age – It is common in babies and children, but should pass with time
  • Drug use, particularly amphetamines
  • Medications – Some antidepressants can cause bruxism
  • Other substances – Nicotine and caffeine intake might cause teeth grinding
  • Family history of bruxism
  • Other disorders

What should you do if you have bruxism?

The first thing you should do is to see a dentist. A dentist can examine your teeth and take x-rays to discover the severity of the damage done, and can take steps to repair any serious problems. We can also custom-make a mouthguard for you to use while you sleep, which can help protect your teeth from further damage.

Your dentist may also refer you to see a specialist within dentistry, sleep medicine or psychology. There doesn’t seem to be any medications that can “cure” bruxism, but relaxation techniques and meditation has shown some promise.

Speak to one of our highly skilled, professional dentists by booking an appointment online today!

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