Ever wake up feeling like you’ve just gone a few rounds with Conor McGregor? Sore, tender jaw? Feeling like you didn’t get a “real” sleep?
You might be grinding your teeth at night.
What Is It, and Why We Do It
The fancy name for teeth grinding is called bruxism. According to the American Sleep Association, as many as 10% of adults and 15% of children in the US alone deal with it on a daily basis. That’s somewhere between 30 million to 40 million children and adults!
Teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, but they are not the only causes. It can also be caused by:
- uneven bite
- medications (e.g., antidepressants) and medical conditions (e.g., digestive issues)
- sleep disorders, including sleep apnea
- lifestyle (e.g., excessive intake of caffeinated drinks, smoking, alcohol)
Occasional grinding is nothing to worry about, but when compounded or consistent over time, it can cause damage and other oral health complications, such as damaged, cracked teeth, broken dental fillings, injured gums and a painful jaw joint. Additionally, continuous rubbing the teeth together can cause the outer layers of enamel to wear away, which can cause tooth sensitivity or if, left untreated, tooth decay and erosion. Super serious cases of bruxism can lead to cavities, decay, periodontal disease, chronic pain and so on.
What to Do About It
Many people grind their teeth only during sleep – usually before hitting deep sleep. Often, we (your dentist), will be able to tell during your annual exam, but if you experience any of the warning signs, below, be sure to schedule your appointment.
Signs You Might Be A “Bruxer”
- rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles
- facial pain
- a headache or an earache
- pain, tightness and/or stiffness in the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and surrounding muscles
- disrupted or fitful sleep
- worn-down teeth, which can lead to increased sensitivity and even tooth loss
- broken teeth or fillings
- swelling (occasionally) on the lower jaw due to teeth clenching
If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to schedule your appointment to see us. We’ll look at possible causes, so we will ask about your general dental health, what sources of stress you have in your life, and what medicines you take. Once we get to the root of the problem, we can take the best steps to treat it.
About 30% of children grind or clench their teeth. The rate is highest in children under age 5. If your child grinds or clenches his or her teeth, discuss the problem with your pediatric dentist. Most children eventually outgrow bruxism and suffer no permanent damage to their teeth.
Natural Remedies – if your grinding is not physical or medical, and caused by stress and/or anxiety, you might consider first trying a natural remedy. these include stress management, relaxation techniques, and certain exercises. One relaxation technique is to wrap your jaw in a washcloth that’s been dipped in lukewarm water. This relaxes the muscles. Worth a try!
Additionally, your sleeping position plays a role in whether or not you grind. Try sleeping flat on your back; sleeping on your side or stomach increases the probability.
Mouth Guards – the most common treatments for teeth grinding is a mouth guard. Whether a “stock” guard or custom fitted, they basically create a barrier between the upper and lower jaw to alleviate gnashing and damage due to grinding. They also work by relaxing the jaw, reducing muscle spasms; easing the tension in the jaw and allowing the muscles to align properly.
While there are over-the-counter solutions, such as the “boil and bite” guards, a custom fitted guard is really the best solution to correct the problem. While more expensive, it provides more comfort and protection. A good mouthguard should be comfortable, resist tears, be durable and easy to clean and should not restrict your breathing or speech.
In Severe Cases – when all else fails, and only in the most severe cases, we sometimes have to look at surgical solutions or prescribe medication. If the grinding is caused by a dental problem, such as misaligned teeth, we will look to correct this issue first.
Taking medication may help, especially a muscle relaxant before going to bed. But this is not for everyone. Recently, there have been some studies that indicate the Botox might provide some relief in severe cases of bruxism. However, there are not enough studies to determine long-term effects and efficacy. So, we don’t recommend this option.
Be sure to talk with your dentist to determine your best solution.
Until next time!