4 Things to Know About Teeth Clenching & Grinding

If you’ve every shared a room with someone who grinds their teeth at night, you’ll know the habit and the noise it produces can be concerning. Habitual clenching and/or grinding of our teeth during the day or night has short-term and long-term effects on our dental health, including cracked, worn and sensitive teeth, facial pain, headaches and tired, sore jaw muscles or joints. Often times prople are unaware of the habit until a roommate or family member brings it to their attention, or until they have pain or other symptoms resulting from it.

  1. Nighttime teeth grinding, also known as sleep bruxism, is a sleep movement disorder affecting 8-9% of the general adult population. Bruxing is more commonly seen in children, although it tends to decrease with age and affects males and females equally. It is reported more frequently in families and may have a genetic component. It is associated with sleep disturbances and sleep breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea. Sleep bruxism may be diagnosed during a sleep study or may simply be observed and reported by a bed partner. Often bruxism will decrease throughout life.
  2. Daytime clenching or grinding has not been studied as well as nighttime bruxing and the cause(s) of both are often unknown. Both types may be worsened by stress and anxiety and be contributed to by genetics, smoking, alcohol and medications. The habitual clenching of the jaw muscles can result in tired, sore muscles and facial pain, however does not occur in all cases as muscles that are used regularly can become ‘conditioned’ as they adapt to the stress of the activity.
  3. The strong forces created by clenching and grinding can also take a toll on the teeth and their surrounding bone. This is often seen in teeth that are prematurely worn or that crack. Generalized tooth sensitivity to cold air, food or drinks can be a result of clenching or grinding. Some people will suffer the loss of bone support around their teeth as a result of the mechanical ‘rocking’ of the teeth created by their clenching and grinding. Dentists will usually evaluate for these signs during examinations. They may need a person’s help in identifying when the damage is occuring, whether it be daytime or night.
  4. Although habitual bruxing cannot be ‘cured,’ people may be able to manage it to reduce their symptoms and potential damage to their teeth and bone. Strategies for management may include wearing a plastic nightguard to protect teeth and reduce the intensity of clenching. Medications such as muscle relaxants or Botox therapy may be prescribed to relax tight jaw muscles. Any associated sleep disorders that have been diagnosed such as sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome that may be contributing should also be treated. If life stress is contributing to the problem, stress reduction techniques to improve relaxation can help reduce symptoms.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from clenching or grinding, talk about it with your dental team at your next visit. Although it can sometimes take some work to determine the extent of the problem and figure out solutions, being proactive in addressing it can help prevent long-term damage.



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