Have you ever been woken up at the middle of the night by your significant other, complaining that you are making ‘sharp’ or ‘shrieking’ noises? If you’ve ever woken up with sensitive teeth and a relatively tense jaw, you might be a victim of teeth grinding. Nocturnal teeth grinding is actually more common than you think. Business Insider notes that about 30 to 40 million Americans engage in teeth grinding at night; that’s about 10% of the U.S. population! But what’s the big deal? So what if you make ‘nails on a chalkboard’ kinds of sounds once in a while, it’s not harming anyone (but your roommate’s agonized ears), right? Wrong! Teeth grinding is hardly conducive to a healthy oral cavity. It can also play a substantial role in causing extreme referred pain and discomfort at other regions of your head and neck.
Teeth grinding 101
Teeth grinding, clinically known as bruxism is considered as a parafunctional activity which means that like jaw clenching, tooth tapping, cheek biting, object/lip biting, teeth grinding is also involuntary and non-functional. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) describes bruxism as grinding of the teeth or an oral habit consisting of involuntary rhythmic or spasmodic gnashing, grinding, or clenching of the teeth in other than chewing movements. Teeth grinding is common during the night (sleep bruxism or SB) as an involuntary reflex but can also take place during the day time as a semi-involuntary activity (awake bruxism or AB), the common causes of which teeter towards stress, anxiety, or concentration. While AB is predominantly observed in women as compared to men, SB does not have a particular prevalence.
So why is bruxism essential to catch on? The act of tooth grinding is particularly important to dentists because this signifies the possible onset of dental restoration breakages, tooth damage, induction of headaches, and temporomandibular (jaw) disorders. Additionally, most cases of teeth grinding may be accompanied by jaw clenching. The prevalence of awake and sleep bruxism is about 20 and 8-16% respectively in the adult population. Due to its rather customary incidence, sleep bruxism has been recently classified as a sleep-related movement disorder, according to AASM’s recent classification of ‘Sleep Disorders’.
Symptoms of teeth grinding
Bruxism mostly involves a stereotyped grinding movement pattern of the upper and lower teeth, either as a conscious or unconscious entity. Nevertheless, too much of everything can be bad, and it doesn’t take long for it to let you know that something in fact isn’t right. Teeth grinding, whether awake or asleep can cause some of these symptoms that may be too deprecatory to neglect.
- Teeth may become flattened (attrition), fractured, chipped or loose
- Worn-down tooth enamel, exposing the deeper layers of the tooth
- Increased pain Hypersensitivity of teeth due to the exposed dentin and pulp
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Dull headache starting at the temples
- Facial pain due to clenching and consistent grinding
- Earache and disrupted sleep
- Pain and stiffness in the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and surrounding muscles, leading to temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
- Broken tooth fillings and other restorations
Tooth damage from teeth grinding may occur in extreme cases and require immediate dental intervention. Chronic grinding can even grind down the teeth to stumps. In such cases, you will need root canal therapy, crowns, implants, and many more endodontic help.
What causes teeth grinding?
Stress, anxiety, smoking, heavy alcohol and caffeine intake could be possible causes of teeth grinding according to the Bruxism Association. There is, however, very little credible evidence to rationally support any cause. Research has hinted to the fact that teeth grinding is found more frequently in people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, or general snorers. Many experts also link teeth grinding to a possible stressful work environment.
Bruxism in children is common in those diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder or a medical issue, such as cerebral palsy. The Indian Journal of Dental Research has also demonstrated that a link between bruxism and allergic rhinitis, ear infection, and mouth breathing. The literature also reveals a high frequency of bruxism among children who have respiratory problems, such as asthma and upper airway infections. Dento-maxillary conditions, such as protrusion, dental crowding, malocclusion, dental caries have also been reported to be possible etiological factors of teeth grinding. It is alarming information, but your dentist can help you pinpoint the exact cause and help you minimize the habit!
How can you get rid of teeth grinding?
There are a number of treatments for teeth grinding. However, every case is unique and would require a unique approach. Most commonly, teeth grinding patients get prescribed mouthguards or mouth splints by their dentists. These are custom made for your mouth and are delicately fitted over your upper or lower teeth. Wearing such an appliance will reduce jaw the sensation of clenching or grinding your teeth and jaw pain. They also help reduce pain and prevent further tooth wear.
If the cause of your teeth grinding and clenching has been found to be stress and anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), muscle-relaxation exercises, psychoanalysis, and sleep hygiene may be recommended.
Living with teeth clenching or grinding can be a challenge. In order to treat this mysterious condition, you need all eyes on deck. Keep a lookout for possible causes and get it evaluated by your dentist or maxillofacial surgeon to catch your condition in time. Massages, cold or heat compress and physical therapy exercises may help but they may not be a cure. Connect with experts through 4Smile to identify the cause of your teeth grinding as soon as possible. The sooner you know, the better!