What is teeth grinding and how is it treated?

Loock Dental Teeth grinding blogpost

Do you, your child or your partner grind your teeth or clench your jaw? Teeth grinding is when you move your jaw, with your teeth pressed together, while jaw clenching is when you hold your teeth together while tightening the jaw muscles. You may pick up signs of teeth grinding or jaw clenching yourself, or your dentist at Loock Dental could spot the symptoms at a check up.  Many people who grind their teeth are unaware what is causing the damage, as teeth grinding often happens at night.

Teeth grinding causes damage to your teeth, and some other complications, and you will need to discuss a solution with your dentist to protect your teeth and jaw, and perhaps talk to your doctor about potential underlying causes of the problem, such as stress or sleep problems.

Sleep bruxism (clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth at night) is the more difficult one to control, as you are entirely unaware you are doing it at the time. However, your dentist can help you repair the damage and provide special bite plates to prevent teeth grinding at night. 

How can you tell if you are grinding your teeth?

If you spot the following symptoms, book an appointment with your dentist to check for teeth grinding:

  • Teeth with worn down surfaces and possibly increased sensitivity (deeper layers of your teeth can become visible, so the tops of your teeth look like the inner rings of a tree trunk, and makes your teeth shorter).
  • Broken or chipped teeth (including broken fillings and crowns) that are not related to an obvious cause.
  • Teeth sensitivity.
  • A clicking or popping noise when you open your jaw, which is often worse in the morning.
  • Disrupted sleep and your sleep partner complaining of the grinding noise waking them.
  • Headaches (especially if they are tension headaches that start in the temples).
  • Earache not obviously related to the ear.
  • Pain and stiffness in the jaw and surrounding muscles, tired jaw muscles or even a locked jaw, where the jaw won’t open or close easily.

What does it mean when your teeth grind?

Doctors are not completely certain what causes bruxism, as teeth grinding is formally known, but it could be caused by a mix of physical, genetic or psychological issues. What is certain is that it is very common among toddlers and children, but adults can also do it, and it can be happening in your sleep or while you are awake.

There are strong indications that grinding your teeth in your sleep could run in families. It is commonly linked to stress, anxiety, anger and tension, as well as drinking alcohol, caffeine, smoking, some recreational drugs, (such as cocaine and ecstasy). For other ways diet affects your teeth and the importance of this to oral hygiene, read out previous blog post

If you are on specific types of antidepressants, these have also been connected to teeth grinding. If you think tension, stress or mental health medications might be possible causes of teeth grinding in yourself or your child, consider seeing your doctor to discuss ways of managing stress and possibly a change in the type of medication you use.

Teeth grinding can go hand-in-hand with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea (where you sometimes stop breathing briefly while asleep), and neurological diseases such as Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

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When you are awake, teeth grinding is sometimes related to to deep concentration, and even to personality type, as people with more aggressive, hyperactive and competitive personalities at greater risk.  According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, recent studies monitoring teeth grinding in sleep showed that, just before the teeth grinding began, there was an increase in heart rate and brain activity. This means that the central nervous system plays a role in the beginning of a teeth grinding episode.

While it was once believed that a bad bite might cause teeth grinding, repeated scientific studies have not been able to prove a connection.

How do I stop grinding my teeth?

Daytime teeth grinding can often be helped with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and other habit-changing and anxiety-reducing therapies. Your family doctor may also be able to provide muscle relaxants, a change of antidepressant, or medication and techniques to help manage anxiety and sleep disorders.

However you treat the underlying cause, you will still need to visit your dentist to get your teeth checked and treated and to prevent complications in the health of your teeth and jaw. This is because, by the time many people realise they are grinding their teeth, some damage has already been done.

How is teeth grinding treated?

Sleep teeth grinding is treated by your dentist by making a special bite plate of hard, clear plastic. This is worn at night over the upper or lower teeth or both. This will reduce the wear on your teeth and may also relieve jaw pain symptoms. Loock dentists can assist in creating a custom bite plate which will be a comfortable fit and protect your teeth from the damage caused by sleep bruxism.

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Marguerite MacRobert

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