Your upper and lower teeth are supposed to slither together smoothly, only touching when chewing food. However, unnatural teeth grinding and clenching at night while you sleep can result in wearing and cracking of your teeth, as well as severe jaw impairment.
Grinding refers to the sideways motion of the jaws with the teeth touching slightly, whereas clenching occurs when you clamp your upper and lower jaws together.
Dental professionals and researchers agree that grinding of teeth at night, or bruxism, can have various negative impacts on a person’s oral health. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) claims that this parafunctional activity is likely to occur in most people at some point in their lives.
If not addressed promptly, chronic teeth grinding can cause teeth to become loose, fractured, or even lost. It is also associated with pain in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles, as well as headaches, earaches, and tooth sensitivity.
How do you know that you’re grinding?
If you often wake up with a sore jaw or dull headache, or occasionally find yourself clenching your teeth, then you are probably grinding. It is not easy to realize that you have the condition known as bruxism, which is the habit of clenching or grinding your teeth, unless you experience some pain, or go for a dental checkup.
Many people fail to realize that they are grinding their teeth because bruxism happens while they are asleep, usually in the early part of your night sleep. Teeth grinding and crunching are usually audible, and can even disturb your partner while asleep. However, there are some who do not make any sound, and would only realize it when their dentist spots unusual wear on their teeth.
Signs of gnashing of teeth during sleep
According to the American Sleep Association, approximately 10% of adults and up to 15% of children grind their teeth at night. The Canadian Dental Association reports that teeth grinding can lead to several complications such as jaw pain, headaches, tooth wear, and sensitivity. Over time, the constant grinding can also lead to damage to the teeth and surrounding tissues.
People who clench or grind their teeth usually experience one or more of the following:
- Headache, toothache, or earache upon waking up
- Sourness in the facial muscles
- Tender jaws
- Damage to dental restoration and loose teeth in the long-term
- Damage to the temporomandibular joints – these are the jaws on either side of the mouth that join the lower jaw to the skull
- Cracks or fractures to teeth caused by the pressure
- Wear of the tooth enamel exposing the underlying layer of dentin
- Tooth sensitivity to changes in temperature and pressure
Reasons for grinding teeth at night
Bruxism is a condition that can happen to anyone at any age, though it seems to affect children more with about 6 to 50% of cases involving children. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) claims that the causes are still not well understood, but may be related to stress, anxiety, or other psychological factors.
Bruxism has been associated with the development of permanent teeth, until the wisdom teeth set in between the ages of 17 and 25. However, small children can begin to grind their teeth because of pain or discomfort caused by ailments such as:
- Ear infections
Why do adults grind their teeth at night?
In adults, bruxism can be caused by several factors including:
- Stress and anxiety: Bruxism is often associated with stress and anxiety, as these emotions can lead to increased muscle tension in the jaw and face.
- Sleep disorders: People with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which causes interrupted breathing during sleep, may be more likely to grind their teeth as a result of disrupted sleep patterns.
- Medications: Some medications, such as certain antidepressants, can cause bruxism as a side effect.
- Abnormal bite: A misaligned or abnormal bite, such as an overbite or underbite, as well as other orthodontic issues like crooked or missing teeth, can cause bruxism as the teeth may not come together properly.
- Alcohol and drug use: The use of alcohol or drugs can increase the likelihood of bruxism during sleep.
It’s important to talk to a dentist or medical professional if you suspect that you are grinding your teeth during sleep, as untreated bruxism can lead to damage to the teeth, jaw, and surrounding tissues. Treatment options may include wearing a mouthguard or splint at night, stress management techniques, or in some cases, medication.
How to manage bruxism
Studies have shown that treating bruxism with a custom-made mouthguard can reduce symptoms and prevent further damage to the teeth and jaw.
Regular dental checkups are essential to detect any damage in the early stages of the condition. Your dentist can then diagnose and treat irregular wear on your teeth, and establish the source of facial pain that may result from grinding and crunching. Your dentist can recommend one or more treatments depending on the diagnosis. Some options include:
Wearing a custom-made night guard while sleeping
A night guard is specially designed using soft material to fit your teeth. It slips over the user’s teeth in one jaw and prevents contact with the opposite teeth. The guard also relieves some of the pressure brought by grinding and crunching.
Finding ways to relax just before bedtime
If your condition is caused by stress, you need to reduce stress levels and maintain a regular soothing bedtime routine. There are various ways to stop grinding teeth in your sleep naturally, such as listening to music, taking a walk, reading a book, or taking a warm bath. If you have problems with managing stress, it may be necessary to seek professional assistance from a counselor.
Creating a comfortable sleep environment by removing electronics from the sleeping area. Good posture is also necessary, like side or stomach sleeping, to get adequate sleep.
Teeth reshaping and reconstruction
Grinding can result from misaligned teeth, which can be solved by reducing high spots on the necessary areas. In severe cases, the biting surfaces may be reconstructed with crowns and inlays.
Overall, dental professionals and researchers agree that bruxism can have negative effects on a person’s oral health and quality of life, and that treatment options such as wearing a mouthguard and stress management techniques can be effective in managing symptoms and preventing further damage.