Stressed out? Angry? Frustrated? These are just a few of the emotional states that may lead you to grind your teeth. The good news? An occasional moment of stress-relieving teeth clenching is relatively harmless and pretty normal. The not-so-good news is that most serious and detrimental teeth grinding is done at night, which, left alone can lead to oral health complications and concerns. Here’s a handy guide to help identify whether you’re part of the 8% of adults that suffer from bruxism (teeth grinding), the potential side effects, and how to put an end to grinding once and for all.
Causes of Bruxism
While bruxism is associated with stress or anxiety, those are actually less common reasons to suffer from chronic teeth grinding. Bruxism is more often associated with a misaligned jaw, or missing / crooked teeth. In addition, one study has linked it to caffeine and alcohol consumption, as well as smoking. Bruxism is also associated with sleep apnea, a common condition caused by jaw misalignment that can lead to a host of other health issues. Children aren’t exempt from bruxism either: up to 15% of children grind or clench their teeth regularly, causing damage and strain on developing teeth.
Because most teeth grinding takes place at night, it can be challenging to identify whether you are indeed gnashing your teeth together while sleeping. But there are some common symptoms that most bruxism sufferers will experience, including a persistent headache, sore jaw, damaged teeth, tongue indentations, and general pain throughout your face and ears.
Teeth Grinding Side Effects
Although teeth grinding may seem relatively harmless, a failure to treat bruxism can lead to more serious oral health complications down the road. Adults who grind their teeth overnight can exert up to 250 pounds of force per square inch – causing enamel deterioration, as well as fractures or loose teeth, to the point where otherwise healthy can become stubs. Damaged teeth may need to be partially or completely replaced with crowns, bridges, implants or dentures. Chronic teeth grinding can also enhance TMJ strain, result in hearing loss, increase your sensitivity to hot or cold foods, lead to gum recession, or alter your physical appearance.
The first step to treating your bruxism is to confirm with your dentist that you’re suffering from it. Take a look at the symptoms above and highlight any chronic symptoms you may be grappling with. One of the most common remedies for bruxism is the creation of a custom mouth guard that will prevent you from grinding your teeth. If you are suffering from a misaligned jaw or missing teeth, you may want to look into a more comprehensive oral appliance that will help open your airways to prevent sleep apnea while also properly aligning your jaw. Of course, if stress is the primary factor in your nightly teeth gnashing, it’s important to cope with that source of stress – whether through counseling or other relaxing activities.