For those of us who aren’t naturally morning people, waking up at any time that ends in AM can be awful! But for those who grind their teeth at night, it can be even worse!
Grinding teeth while you sleep can cause a lot more than just an infuriating noise for those who share your bed/room. You could wake up with a sore jaw or—over time—you might grind down your teeth to stubs.
What causes teeth grinding?
Commonly known causes of teeth grinding – which is also known as bruxism – are stress, anxiety, tension, anger and frustration.
It’s important to note that, in reality, there are two types of night bruxism: clenching and grinding.
Clenching – Clenching is when the jaw remains clamped together forcefully for a sustained length of time without moving around at all.
Grinding – Grinding is the movement of the lower jaw from side to side while clenched. This makes a distinctly unpleasant squeaking sound.
Don’t panic just yet! Mild and/or occasional teeth grinding isn’t likely to cause much harm. However, if you suffer from chronic bruxism and have done so for years, you may want to check in with your dentist to see if you’ve damaged your oral and jaw health.
Teeth grinding and clenching can:
- Wear down tooth enamel
- Chip/break teeth
- Increase temperature sensitivity
- Cause bone loss & headaches
- Loosen teeth
- Cause severe facial pain and jaw problems, including TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders
- Contribute to orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), which may affect speech in children and adults
And all of that doesn’t even take into account the effects it’ll have on the quality of your much-needed shut-eye!
Are children at risk of teeth grinding?
Bruxism, unfortunately, is not limited just to adults. Up to 33% of children grind their teeth. And for those children that do, they tend to grind at two peak times: when baby teeth emerge and when their permanent teeth come in. However, most children do lose the teeth grinding habit once each of these two sets of teeth come in more fully.
Much like adults, children who grind their teeth tend to do so while they sleep rather than when they’re awake. While we’re still not sure exactly why they grind their teeth, considerations include improperly aligned teeth, irregular contact between the upper and lower teeth, illnesses/medical conditions (such as nutritional deficiencies, pinworm, allergies, endocrine disorders), and psychological factors including anxiety and stress.
If your child is grinding their baby teeth, don’t be overly concerned – it rarely results in problems. If you notice your child’s teeth do look worn, or they complain about tooth sensitivity and/or pain, then you should consult your dentist, as it can cause jaw pain, headaches, TMD and wearing down of the teeth.
What can I do to prevent ruining my teeth by grinding?
The simplest solution is to visit your dentist and have them fit an occlusal splint – think removable retainer type thingy – to your mouth to protect your teeth from grinding while you sleep.
These occlusal splints are made from a slim yet hard acrylic guard that covers the biting surfaces of your upper teeth. While it won’t stop you from grinding or clenching, it will guide the jaw into a neutral position to relieve pressure on the jaw joint and protect your teeth from the destructive forces of bruxism.
What can I do to stop teeth grinding?
If stress or anxiety is the cause of your teeth grinding, it’s worth having a chat to your doctor or dentist about ways to reduce your stress levels.
If a sleep disorder is causing the grinding, you should focus on treating that in order to reduce or eliminate the bruxism habit.
Other tips to help stop teeth grinding include:
- Avoiding or reducing foods/drinks that contain caffeine, such as coke, chocolate and coffee.
- Avoid alcohol, as alcohol consumption does tend to intensify teeth grinding.
- Avoid chewing on pens/pencils and just about anything that’s not food. Even chewing gum allows your jaw muscles to get used to the sensation of clenching, increasing teeth grinding likeliness.
- Train yourself. As a bad habit, you may have to work hard to kick teeth grinding. Try work on catching yourself clenching/grinding during the day or positioning the tip of your tongue between you teeth as a preventative measure and to help train your jaw muscles to relax.
- Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm washcloth against your cheek, in front of your earlobe. (Trust us it helps!)
If you think—or know—that you suffer from teeth grinding it’s important that you see your dentist. Not only can they check for damage but they’ll also help ensure that you do everything possible to minimise grinding/clenching in the future.
And, as always, regular hygiene checks will help your dentist detect signs of grinding/clenching nice and early, when there is most opportunity to prevent serious damage.
After all, if there’s one thing we can all agree upon, it’s that we all could do with some undisturbed, peaceful sleep at night!
By Trang Nguyen, Hygienist