Tooth grinding affects approximately 30 million to 40 million children and adults. It’s also known as bruxism which is the grinding and/or clenching of the teeth. The act of clenching the jaws and grinding of the teeth may develop at any age. Teeth grinding is usually done unconsciously in your sleep, but surprisingly can also occur when you are awake. During the day, a person who is concentrating on a task will often place his teeth together and apply force through a contraction of the jaw muscles. Commonly associated tasks that cause grinding during the daytime include lifting heavy objects, stressful driving, reading and writing.
There are many issues tooth grinding and jaw clenching can cause:
- it disrupts sleep
- it can disrupt the sleep of others nearby
- it damages the teeth
- it damages the jaw joint
- it can cause a sore and aching jaw
- it can cause pain and swelling of the face
- it can cause headaches
There are many reasons why children and adults grind their teeth. It has been linked to growing pains, caffeinated beverages, stress, anxiety, smoking, alcoholism, health problems and depression. However, research has shown that bruxism is found more frequently in people who snore or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and in people whose lifestyle includes smoking, drinking alcohol and excess caffeine. Findings suggest that 70 percent of people clench and grind their teeth from stress and anxiety with a possible link to a stressful work environment. Other reasons why some of us grind our teeth are:
- the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly
- teething pain in children
- being over tired
- stressful situations or traumatic events
- lifestyle changes due to divorce, the death of a loved one or financial changes
- certain medications
How your dentist can help
Treatment is based on finding out what is causing you to grind your teeth. Your dentist will look at your lifestyle, diet, sleep patterns and ask you about any stress and anxiety that you may be feeling. It is important to have your dentist evaluate you with a comprehensive exam and develop a treatment plan that is specialized for you. The best way to protect your teeth is to wear an occlusal appliance. These appliances have different names, including occlusal splints, occlusal bite guards, night guards, bite plates and bruxism appliances. They are custom-made and specifically fitted plastic mouth pieces that fit over your top or bottom teeth. By wearing a mouth guard at night will help reduce jaw muscle pain and protect both your teeth and temporomandibular joint.
Other Treatment Options
If anxiety or stress is the cause of your grinding, then behavioral management should be addressed. Relaxation techniques, meditation, and therapy can help manage these symptoms. Studies have shown that hypnosis provided positive long-term effects, so this treatment has some promise. It is very important to address tooth grinding and putting an end to it for the future health of your teeth and jaw.