Have you ever found yourself clenching your teeth when you’re feeling stressed out or anxious? Do you wake up feeling unrested, with a headache or sore jaw? If so, you could be one of the millions of Americans who experience chronic teeth grinding every year! About 1 in every 5 adults spends a significant part of their day grinding their teeth, many without even realizing it. We’re here to tell you all about teeth grinding, the types, causes, and treatments. While it’s a relatively common habit, chronic teeth grinding can lead to several issues, including:
- excessive wear and tear of the tooth enamel
- chipped or loose teeth
- teeth that have a “flattened” appearance
- tooth pain
- increased sensitivity
- jaw muscles that feel tired or tight
- trouble opening or closing your jaw completely
- pain or soreness in your face, neck, or jaw
- pain similar to an earache
- interrupted sleep
Here at Boger Dental, our goal is to help you achieve the healthiest smile possible. Let’s take a closer look at what teeth grinding actually is, what the possible causes are, and how our expert team can help you relieve or eliminate the associated symptoms. Keep reading below for more information!
The basics of teeth grinding
The technical term for teeth grinding is bruxism. We use this term to describe any involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth that happens outside of normal chewing, swallowing, or speaking movements. There are three basic types of teeth grinding. These may have different symptoms that require a different treatment approach.
This is the most common type of teeth grinding we see. It occurs only (or mostly) during the hours a patient is asleep. If this is something you’ve experienced, it’s possible you aren’t even aware of it. Anyone nearby may have noticed it, however, and has probably been awakened by the sound of it once or twice!
This type of bruxism is a bit less common, but it’s often a little easier to identify and treat. We frequently see awake bruxism in patients who are prone to clenching or grinding their teeth when they’re under a lot of stress or feeling anxious about something.
Many cases of childhood bruxism can be linked to mouth breathing and issues with the airway or tongue posture. It is also frequently connected to sleep disordered breathing (SDB.) Besides teeth grinding, the symptoms associated with SBD can include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, prolonged bed-wetting, dark undereye circles, and behavioral problems. If this is left untreated over time, it can lead to sleep apnea. Some patients even develop heart complications that can worsen in adulthood. For these reasons, we do not recommend waiting for a child to grow out of their bruxism before seeking a diagnosis and treatment with a dental professional.
What causes teeth grinding? Are there any risk factors?
We don’t fully understand what causes bruxism, but most experts believe it’s due to a combination of physical, psychological, and genetic factors. These include the following.
Many people suffer from sleep disorders and accompanying symptoms like teeth grinding due to an insufficient airway. There’s a significant relationship between bruxism, clenching of the teeth, and airway problems. In these cases, the teeth grinding is often related to a lack of oxygen during sleep. This is connected to the sleep disorders we’ve highlighted below. Treatment can relieve bruxism, correct related digestive issues, improve mental health, and lead to more restful sleep.
Sleep disorders are a big risk factor for teeth grinding. In fact, they’re one of the most common issues associated with bruxism, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA.) Teeth grinding often happens after an OSA episode as part of a survival mechanism to open the airway. Almost a quarter of all people with OSA also experience sleep bruxism. Other sleep-related disorders that have a connection to teeth grinding include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic snoring, and sleep talking.
Stress and anxiety
As mentioned above, stress and anxiety are big contributors to developing bruxism. Fortunately, these are some of the easiest factors to address! If you’re a naturally anxious person or grind your teeth when you’re feeling stressed, exploring a variety of relaxation methods can help. These might include deep breathing, calming music, meditation, taking a long walk outside, or reading a good book before bed.
Although we tend to see this in children more than adults, patients of any age can have a bad bite that may lead to teeth grinding. Our team of dental specialists is trained to identify orthodontic issues like these and recommend the appropriate treatment for them. Some misalignments can even be treated here in our Plymouth office using the Invisalign clear aligner system!
Medications, medical conditions, and genetics
There are certain medications and medical conditions for which bruxism can be a side effect. This is especially true of neurological conditions. Teeth grinding can also be inherited. If others in your family have ever experienced bruxism, you’re more likely to develop it as well.
Can teeth grinding be prevented? How is it treated?
If you grind your teeth and have noticed issues related to it, we encourage you to contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced dentists. They’ll conduct a thorough examination of your teeth and be able to determine if the grinding is causing any damage. If so, further treatment is likely to be recommended. There are many different ways to help reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with bruxism.
Have airway and swallowing evaluated
Bruxism, disordered sleeping, and airway issues are often interrelated. Fortunately, there are several approaches we can take to correct these problems! Our dental experts have the training and experience necessary to evaluate your airway and recommend an appropriate treatment plan based on your specific needs and goals.
If you regularly partake of certain substances, like tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and some medications for depression and anxiety, teeth grinding can be a side effect. Cutting down on, limiting the use of, or finding alternatives to these substances may help your teeth grinding problems disappear.
Stress and anxiety management
There are several ways to manage bruxism that’s related to feelings of stress and anxiety. The relaxation techniques we mentioned above are a great place to start, and you may find that therapy and regular exercise can help relieve some of the emotions that keep your teeth on edge.
Jaw exercises and massage
Gently stretching and massaging the jaw muscles can help relax them and prevent the jaw from clenching at night. Applying hot packs or a warm washcloth to the area can also be helpful.
Mouthguards and splints
If necessary, a dental professional can prescribe mouthguards or splints to create a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth. This will help prevent excessive wear and tear to your teeth from the grinding, but it’s important to note that it won’t treat bruxism itself.
Tackle teeth grinding with help from Boger Dental
As with any health condition, it’s important to find the root cause so it can successfully be treated. If grinding your teeth is getting you down, get in touch with our office to see what treatment options could be right for you! We’ll be able to help you reduce the amount of grinding and prevent any further damage. Our doctors can also address any damage that is already present. We’re here to help you get a good night’s sleep and start smiling again!