Clenching and Grinding Your Teeth
The official name for clenching and grinding your teeth is Bruxism. Stress is thought to be the main cause. Bruxism is the involuntary habit of clenching or grinding your teeth, typically while you sleep, however it can happen during the day. Some people are aware of either clenching or grinding but not both. Either one can do a lot of damage.
Let’s talk about how to know if you may be bruxing.
- Most people clench or grind their teeth at night. This is commonly due to emotional or physical stress. When you sleep your body is processing the stress you experience during the day. Because you are not conscious of bruxing at night you cannot stop yourself. It is believed that you can put significantly more force on your teeth when you are asleep compared to when you are awake. You may wake up aware of your teeth clenched together. Or you may feel an achy soreness in your joint, teeth or jaw muscles. Family members may tell you that they hear you grinding your teeth at night.
- Some people just notice they are clenching and grinding their teeth throughout the day. Common triggers could be when you are frustrated or angry, when you are intensely focusing on your computer screen or in traffic or just feeling the general stress of life.
- You may have a history of fractured, chipped or flattened teeth.
- Another sign you are grinding your teeth could be headaches. The muscles that allow you to open and close your jaws are in several locations around your head, around your jaw joint and under your jaw. The main ones that experience pain are shown in the image below. You can see how headaches could result from pain in the muscle above your cheekbone (temporalis).
- When you have tension and fatigue in the muscle that extends from your cheek bone to the lower corner of you jaw (masseter) it can be painful to open or chew or it can feel like several back teeth are hurting on one or both sides.
- A very serious and long-term problem resulting of bruxing is fractured teeth or fillings. According to The Sleep Foundation, people can apply as much as 250 pounds of pressure while clenching and grinding their teeth at night. I see broken teeth and fillings as a result of bruxing all the time in my practice.
- Ear pain can result from bruxing. If you are experiencing earaches and your physician sees no problems with your ears, you may be grinding your teeth.
- A less common but severe form of bruxing can result from some medications, so if you feel like this has started at the same time as a new medication, talk to your physician and dentist about it. There may be a connection between the medication and this damaging new action.
So, now that you know what bruxing is and how to figure out if you may be doing it, let’s talk about how to stop or at least decrease the damage.
- The #1 treatment in my practice is an occlusal guard. This non-invasive, non-medication solution resolves the concerns of 95% of my patients. This is a custom-made nighttime mouth guard made from a lab processed hard acrylic. It fits on either your upper or lower teeth. An occlusal guard allows you a full range of motion so you don’t feel trapped, it protects the muscles from fatigue because you can’t lock into it and it protects the teeth because they are sliding on the smooth acrylic, there is no tooth-to-tooth contact. Some people are aware of clenching and grinding during the day. If you are able, you can wear your occlusal guard during the daytime too. If you do need to be able to speak throughout your day, a thin clear plastic retainer can be made that is almost invisible and does not affect your speech.
- If the discomfort you are having in your jaw is related to the incorrect alignment of your teeth, you may need to see an orthodontist. Correcting the position of the teeth so that the jaws can come together and function normally may be the solution to your jaw pain.
- You might want to look into massage, acupuncture or physical therapy. Some people find relief this way if you have well trained practitioners in your area.
- You may decide to talk to your physician. Medication may be recommended to help you relax. You do want to carefully consider whether medication and the possible side effects are the right option for you. One of the beautiful things about an occlusal guard is that there are no medications or medication side effects.
- Lastly, clenching and grinding your teeth can result of sleep apnea. If you think you may have sleep apnea, please call our office or your physician for a consultation.
Bruxism can happen at any age. I am addressing bruxism in adults in the rest of this post. However, it is common for young children to grind their teeth. Many parents have nervously asked me if their 4–6-year-old child is going to crack their teeth. These parents can hear their child grinding their teeth from the next room. This grinding can be noisy and alarming. I have seen many baby teeth significantly shortened from grinding, sometime to a point where the teeth break right before they were due to be lost naturally anyway. Rest assured, this is not uncommon and is almost never a problem. The pressure and movement in the jaw bones of the adult teeth erupting into the mouth can cause children to brux. The pressure from clenching the teeth seems to sooth the discomfort of teething. It is very unusual for a child to crack a tooth before it has already been thinned out naturally by the process of the adult tooth erupting through the gums. Usually, the tooth fragments will be lost in the same way the tooth would have been lost if it were still whole. If your child is in pain or there is persistent bleeding in the gums, please call our office.
Bruxism has become more and more common in our busy lives. Don’t despair that you have to endure jaw pain or breaking teeth. In my office we have solutions for you, to make your jaws comfortable and keep your teeth beautiful and healthy!
Maria Van Huffel, DDS