We have probably all experienced tooth grinding, or bruxism, at some point in our life. However, while for some of us it may only happen occasionally and will cause little damage, for others it is something they cannot help.
The continual grinding of your teeth can result in real problems, sometimes meaning that eventually, you may have to have them removed or replaced because of the harm you have inadvertently caused.
What causes me to grind my teeth?
While it’s estimated as many as one in three children grind their teeth – either when their baby teeth emerge or when their permanent teeth come through – they generally lose the habit after this transitional period has ended.
However, as an adult, bruxism can be recognised as a symptom associated with several different issues. For example, people who are stressed or feeling anxious may find themselves grinding without even knowing it. Another time people may grind their teeth without being aware of it is while they’re asleep – it’s not uncommon for them to only to find out they have been doing this when their partner informs them.
Finally, it’s possible that those who grind do so because they have an abnormal bite, are missing teeth or their teeth are slightly crooked.
How can I tell if I grind my teeth?
As the majority of people tend to be asleep when it happens, the first time they may realise they have a problem is when someone else tells them about it.
However, there are other symptoms to look out for that could be tell-tale signs, including:
If you can relate to two or all three of these, then it may be worth going to visit your dentist.
Why is tooth grinding so bad for me?
It makes sense that if you continually grind, eventually you’ll get to the point where you can grind no more – and chronic bruxism eventually leads to wearing down the teeth until they are merely stumps. In some cases, the constant pressure being applied to your teeth can result in them becoming loose, fracturing and even falling out.
Should it get to the point where this has happened to you, your dentist could give you several options to rectify the problem. These include dental implants, crowns, bridges or root canals. Depending on the severity of the case, you may need complete dentures.
However, bruxism isn’t just bad for your teeth. It has been known to cause hearing loss, change the physical appearance of your face and cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction – otherwise known as TMD or TMJD – a condition that affects the muscles and joints that control your jaw.
How can I stop it?
Once you know you are grinding your teeth, then you can start taking steps to stop doing it. Because it is often involuntary, much of the prevention process is about retraining yourself to do something else instead of grind. This may be as simple as avoiding things like chewing gum, which encourages you to clench your jaw, to actively stop chewing down on a pen or a pencil when you are doing your work.
At night, you are able to protect your teeth from further grinding by asking your dental practitioner for a mouthguard. Once fitted, this should help you to limit the contact your teeth are making with each other as you sleep.
There are also several types of food and drink you should try to avoid, as they are proven to intensify grinding in some people. These include:
Another tip is to help your jaw muscles practise relaxing instead of tensing up as they would when you grind. This can be done by using the tip of your tongue to separate your teeth. If you keep doing the exercise, you can slowly retrain yourself.
Similarly, if you hold a warm cloth against your cheek close to your ear before going to bed, this can have a similar effect, as it relaxes the area sufficiently enough so you are less likely to grind your teeth in your sleep. Muscle relaxants may also be available on prescription.
Finally, another suggestion is going to stress or anxiety counselling sessions. If you think this may be the reason why you grind your teeth, then by dealing with this problem you can potentially solve both issues.
If you grind your teeth, there’s probably an underlying reason for it – and the majority of cases are associated with stress and anxiety.
Other causes of bruxism can include obstructive sleep apnoea – a condition in which your breathing is affected during your sleep. Certain medications, such as anti-depressants, as well as smoking, drinking and using recreational drugs, have also been found to lead to teeth grinding.
Although it is less common, some people develop the habit of tooth grinding or jaw clenching when they’re awake as well. For example, if you are in deep concentration, feeling nervous or pressured, you might start grinding your teeth – and you may or may not know that you’re doing it.
It’s also estimated that around one-third of children grind or clench their teeth – this is something that they generally grow out of by the age of 13, but it should be discussed with the dentist to ensure the problem is being managed effectively.
Since teeth grinding is something that often happens subconsciously, you may not be aware that it’s something you do – at least at first.
Prolonged or regular teeth grinding can lead to a variety of problems, however, such as:
Even if you haven’t noticed any symptoms, your dentist may notice the signs during a routine examination, and make a recommendation to deal with the problem.
Depending on the severity of the problem, a number of different treatment options may be advised. Stress reduction techniques and developing new sleep habits may be all that’s necessary to stop teeth grinding in your sleep. A hard mouth guard called a Michigan or Tanner splint may be recommended to protect your teeth and TMJ from further damage and to allow your teeth to meet on an appliance that will spread the load of the bite.
Other lifestyle changes, such as cutting your alcohol intake and stopping smoking, may also be suggested.
In severe cases, additional treatments may be necessary to repair the damage that has been done to your teeth. Dental crown and onlays can be used for this purpose and the alignment of your teeth may also need to be adjusted.
The best way to deal with tooth grinding is to get help from a qualified dental expert who can examine your teeth and make suggestions based on your requirements.
To book an appointment, simply phone us on 0207 036 1999.