Teeth grinding, or to give its correct medical term, bruxism, is estimated to affect up to one third of the population at any one time, and although it can occur during the daytime it usually happens at night. Sufferers are often unaware that they have this condition, and many only find out because their partners complain about the noise, or because they begin to notice unpleasant symptoms.
Does this sound familiar? It’s easy to dismiss the condition as being harmless, but teeth grinding is no joke, and can cause serious damage to your teeth and jaw if you don’t take action to remedy this problem.
What causes teeth grinding?
One of the major causes of bruxism is thought to be stress, and if you think about it, it’s quite common to clench your teeth when you are upset or annoyed. Other things which can make teeth grinding worse are your diet, your sleeping habits, and the way your teeth meet together. If your teeth are slightly out of alignment then you’re far more likely to clench and grind. The trouble is, it quickly becomes a habit.
What are the symptoms of teeth grinding?
If you grind your teeth regularly, then you’re likely to be experiencing a number of symptoms as the condition will be putting pressure on your teeth, and jaw and all the surrounding structures, including your temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that hinges your jaw open and shut, and if it becomes inflamed through bruxism it can be quite painful. Symptoms of teeth grinding can include:
- Feeling pain in your jaw, or noticing that your jaw makes popping sounds when you open and close your mouth
- Noticing your teeth look worn down or chipped
- Your teeth becoming more sensitive to hot and cold foods
- Frequently waking up with a headache
- Teeth meeting together slightly differently, as they become worn down and out of alignment
- Noticing that some teeth have become wobbly, or that the gums look inflamed
Getting treatment for teeth grinding
If you think you might be suffering from bruxism then schedule an appointment with your dentist straightaway for a full evaluation. Dentists who are experienced in dealing with bruxism will typically take x-rays to see exactly what is going on. Obviously the most important thing is to try to relieve the symptoms, and as teeth grinding is a learned behavior, it’s essential to try to break this pattern.
One of the most widely used ways of breaking this habit is to use a mouth guard. A mouth guard helps protect the teeth from grinding and clenching during the night, and is often enough to relieve the symptoms. A well-made mouth guard should fit well, and will be comfortable to wear overnight. Some people will only need to wear a mouth guard for a short amount of time, as they’ll quickly break the pattern of teeth grinding. If wearing a mouth guard doesn’t work then your dentist may prescribe a special kind of splint which puts the jaw into a more relaxed position, preventing you from teeth grinding.
There are also certain things you can do to help manage your bruxism. These include:
- Using hot or cold packs on sore jaw muscles
- Learning simple stretching exercises to help relieve the muscles and joints on either side of the head
- Avoiding eating hard foods
- Massaging your face, neck and shoulders
- Actively relaxing your facial muscles during the day
- Making sure you get enough sleep
- Using biofeedback to help break the pattern of clenching and grinding
If you think your condition may be stress-related, then obviously trying to reduce your stress levels will help tremendously. Getting more exercise, taking regular massages or taking up something relaxing like yoga can help. Some people find it beneficial to change their diet, and to cut down or eliminate stimulants such as tea, coffee and alcohol.
The important thing is not to ignore this condition, as you could cause long-term damage to your teeth and jaw if you don’t stop grinding your teeth. The worst-case scenario is that you would need surgery to remedy this problem, but very few people get this stage. The best case scenario is that you protect your smile before any permanent damage is done, and both you and your partner will get a better and more peaceful night’s sleep.