THE ULTIMATE TEETH GRINDING GUIDE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BRUXISM
how do I know if I am grinding my teeth?A loved one may have told you that they heard the sound of rocks being rubbed together coming from your room last night. Maybe your dentist mentioned something, warning you about the impacts of excessive grinding and clenching. Perhaps you find yourself here because you notice that when you wake up your jaw is sore, you have a slight headache or it feels like there’s some sort of pressure in your ears.
WHAT’S HAPPENING? COULD IT BE THAT I’M GRINDING MY TEETH? HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM?
Chewing and chomping through our food is – after all – what our teeth are made for! These are common and normal actions. Everyone will grind or clench their teeth a bit harder than what is needed time and again.
It is when this jaw-muscle activity of excessive clenching and/or grinding becomes repetitive and takes place on a regular basis that it starts to cause ill effects. Dentists call this type of habitual action a “parafunctional activity.” Repetitive grinding is not a regular function that our teeth are made to withstand.
We take note in the office when we notice damage and excessive wear on the teeth. If these actions are persisted and the teeth are not protected, permanent damage will start to take place.
What many people don’t know is that this act of teeth grinding and jaw clenching actually has a name. It is called bruxism.
If this unconscious action is happening when you’re awake it is called “awake bruxism.” Similarly, you may be clenching or grinding during your sleep and this is called “sleep bruxism.”
What negative impacts do grinding my teeth and habitually clenching my jaw have?
BRUXISM CAN LEAD TO:
- Damaged or worn teeth: the removal of layers of enamel, thereby exposing inner layers of the tooth
- Flattening of the teeth
- Increased pain or tooth sensitivity to coldness, heat or brushing
- Teeth can get fractured or chipped
- Teeth can become loose
- Failure of dental restorations
- Premature aging of the dentin
- Tired, tender or tight jaw muscles
- Soreness when chewing
- Jaw, neck and face soreness – especially when you wake up
- Limited jaw movement
- The feeling of earaches or high pressure in your ears
- Dull or constant headaches and sore temples
- Bites or chewing on the inside of the cheek
- Interrupted sleep
How do I know if I am clenching and/or grinding my teeth?
It is an unconscious action and hard to tell if it’s taking place or not. One of the most obvious clues comes when a partner, parent or friend hears you grinding your teeth in the middle of the night. The sound is unmistakable.
Our list above can also be read as “signs and symptoms to identify if you might be grinding.” If you think that there is a possibility that you’re habitually grinding, please schedule an appointment with your dentist so that we can help you take a look. It is important to take preventative measures before more costly and visible permanent damage takes place.
We’ll also check to make sure that your symptoms aren’t side effects of another condition such as an ear infection, TMJ or TMD disorder or the side effects of a medication.
It is interesting to note that the rate of bruxism is the highest in children. Around 14% – 17% of kids reportedly grind their teeth at night or during the day. My son has had it ever since he was a young. It has come and gone repeatedly throughout his life. Bruxism’s presence often fades off as children grow into adulthood, although ~1/3 of people who grind their teeth during youth will still continue the habit into adulthood. Studies show that unconscious grinding happens to men and women equally.
Why do I grind my teeth subconsciously? What are the causes of bruxism?
The truth is – the causes of bruxism aren’t completely understood. Researchers have been working for years on this question and the evidence that is coming back is complex and multifactorial.
Evidence shows that there is a genetic influence. There can be an emotional component. Psychological factors play a role. Additionally, certain health issues such as obesity, hypertension, awake/sleep disorders and diabetes show associations with causing bruxism.
The answers aren’t as clear as we’d like them to be but we’ve honed in on some risk factors that make bruxism more likely.
RISK FACTORS FOR BRUXISM:
- Stress and anxiety
- Occlusal (bite) problems
- Sleep-disorders such as sleep apnea
- Personality type – for example people who are highly motivated and driven tend to have it more commonly
- The use of caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol before sleep
- Distress in adolescents, or airway issues
WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MY TEETH OR TO PREVENT MYSELF FROM GRINDING THEM?
The safest, most effective and immediate course of action is to wear a night guard. Since some people grind their teeth due to genetic factors while others due to reasons that are emotional or stress related, there’s no one-size fits all home remedy such as “meditation,” except for the use of night guards.
You can find over the counter night guards although they tend to be uncomfortable, bulky and can dislodge in the middle of the night. Although more expensive, dental offices or dental labs make custom night guards which will specifically and precisely fit your teeth. They’ll last you as long as you don’t lose it. If you’re going to wear it every night, comfort is key!
If your bruxism is bite related, braces or other options might be required in order to align your bite. If, in an unfortunate scenario it has caused cosmetic damage, discussing options such as crowns and veneers might be of interest to you.
THE FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF AT HOME APPROACHES THAT, FOR SOME, MIGHT HELP TO ENCOURAGE DEEPER SLEEPS AND A MORE RELAXED JAW THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT:
Try to reduce or relieve your stress
Remove caffeine from your diet – whether in soda, coffee or energy drinks, caffeine is a stimulant that can agitate you and making it more difficult to relax the mind and the jaw muscles
Avoid alcohol – especially right before bed as it contributes to a shallow, less restful sleep where grinding is more likely
Try to notice when you do stress related habits, for example chewing on non-food objects like the end of a pen or on your fingernails. Make a conscious effort to try and relax your jaw in those moments
Get into a practice of relaxing before bed. Avoid looking at your phone or going on social media for an hour before you go to bed and for an hour after you wake up! I dare you 😉
Bruxism is a common thing that many people worry about. We hope this article has helped you to understand everything you need to know about grinding your teeth a bit better. Please give us a call if you have any more questions or would like to come in and have us take a look. Remember that preventative care is the most affordable route when it comes to your long-term dental health!
Bell Harbour Dental is a family owned, patient-first dental practice in the heart of Downtown, Seattle. Check us on out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or contact us today to assist you in taking initiative towards vibrant dental health!