The signs, symptoms, prevention and treatment of the common night-time nibbling you might not realise you’re doing
Adults and children are prone to teeth grinding. Most of them don’t even know they’re doing it, and unless a partner or parent points it out they only find out when advanced symptoms start to appear.
But what exactly is teeth grinding? And why should you worry about it in relation to your oral health?
What is bruxism?
Teeth grinding, or ‘bruxism’, is when you unconsciously clench, gnash or grind your teeth. It can occur when you’re awake (awake bruxism) or asleep (sleep bruxism). The latter is actually classified as a sleep disorder, with sufferers more likely to also experience sleep apnoea.
Because it’s a subconscious act, pinning down the number of Australians with bruxism is difficult. Figures range from 5% of the population all the way up to 18.6% of adults. Such small numbers might have you thinking it’s not such a big deal. And in mild cases it’s not. But frequent or prolonged bruxism, if left untreated, can become a real problem for your teeth, gums and overall oral health.
In this article we’ll help you identify the signs of teeth grinding, explain the risks to your teeth, talk about prevention, and suggest when it might be time to seek professional advice. Because if you are experiencing the effects of teeth grinding your dentist can help.
Spotting the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding
Bruxism symptoms come and go. If you have sleep bruxism you may experience common traits of teeth grinding when you first wake, but then they quickly disappear. It’s tempting to put what you feel down to the grogginess of your body waking up. It’s the same with awake bruxism. Symptoms may only appear later, by which time you could blame the sensations on the stresses of the day.
Knowing what to look for means you can more easily judge whether or not they’re due to you grinding your teeth. Keep an eye out for:
- a tight or locked jaw
- extreme jaw clenching
- pain that feels like earache
- pain or soreness in the jaw and neck
- dull headaches that start at the temples
- flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth
- mouth soreness from chewing the inside of your cheeks
- tooth sensitivity, especially to hot or cold food and drinks
- achy teeth, a stiff face and a feeling of ‘tightness’ around your temples.
Are you a candidate for teeth grinding?
Both adults and children can experience teeth grinding, with most children growing out of it. But it’s important to understand it’s not just a kid thing. For adults, their lifestyle (and life in general) can trigger or exacerbate teeth grinding. Common causes include:
- stress and anxiety
- sleeping and medical disorders
- smoking and recreational drug use
- caffeine and alcohol consumption
- a hyperactive, aggressive or competitive personality.
Bruxism affects oral health
As dentists, we worry about bruxism because it can have a lasting, detrimental effect on the condition of your teeth and gums. Regular grinding wears away tooth enamel – the hard outer covering of the tooth that protects it from decay. Enamel is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Once it’s gone, it doesn’t regenerate. And a tooth without its protective enamel coating is at greater risk of decay. In severe cases of bruxism, the damage can go all the way through the dentine to the pulp.
Losing enamel isn’t the only effect grinding has on teeth. It can also chip and break your teeth, and damage dental treatments such as fillings and crowns.
Teeth grinding treatments from your dentist
If you think you grind your teeth, raise your concern with your dentist at your next appointment. By looking for signs of increased wear and tear, we can confirm whether grinding is likely. The good news is that once it’s identified there are treatments to protect your chompers.
A dental splint is a plastic mouthguard that protects your teeth and jaw from the pressure and friction caused by clenching and grinding. Using digital dentistry techniques, the splint is custom made to fit either your upper or lower teeth.
Splints offer a preventative solution. But if your teeth have already succumbed to the effects of grinding, your dentist may discuss other dental restoration work such as composite filling, veneers and crowns.
While there are ways for us to help limit and correct the physical impact of grinding, we can’t cure it.
Getting to the root cause of bruxism
Stress and lifestyle choices are often to blame for bruxism. If you’re struggling emotionally you may want to talk to your GP, a counsellor or therapist, or even try meditation to help you relax.