Contrary to what we often see on TV, people don’t just grind their teeth when they’re feeling angry. In fact, regular teeth grinding is incredibly common. Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is thought to affect as much as a third of the population. It usually occurs involuntarily and most often during sleep. Without treatment, it can cause ongoing health problems as well as lasting cosmetic damage to your teeth.
What are the symptoms?
Many people who suffer from bruxism don’t realise it As it usually happens at night, sufferers might simply dismiss their symptoms as something else entirely. The symptoms of bruxism are numerous. Some range from relatively minor short term symptoms, to long term symptoms that can affect your everyday life. Common symptoms include:
- Jaw pain
- Gum inflammation
- Muscle pain
- Excessive teeth wear
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
- Tooth fracture
- Gum recession
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
These symptoms are often found in other common disorders, making it easy to overlook teeth grinding as the potential root of the problem. Your dentist should be able to spot evidence of bruxism, such as changes in your teeth or excessive wear. During your next dental appointment, tell your dentist if you are having any symptoms and ask them to check whether bruxism could be the cause.
What causes bruxism?
Bruxism can often be associated with stress or anxiety disorders. In fact, nearly 70 percent of cases are reported to be due to stress or anxiety. A study of shift workers found that those who reported suffering work related stress were more likely to suffer from nighttime teeth grinding. Ignoring stress therefore can have long term effects on your teeth. The National Sleep Foundation recommends regular exercise to help alleviate stress, taking a relaxing bath before sleep or other stress reducing activities. If feelings of stress or anxiety are severe or last longer than a few days, you should seek help from a professional.
While bruxism can affect your sleep, conversely, sleep disorders can cause bruxism. Sleep disorders, particularly those that include periods of disturbed sleep, can cause teeth grinding or clenching to occur. An example of this is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, which involves short periods during sleep where the sufferer stops breathing temporarily. Sleep talking, sleep paralysis and sleep hallucinations also contribute to teeth grinding. Other physical conditions can exacerbate teeth grinding, such as Parkinson’s disease, which causes involuntary tremors.
Finally, certain lifestyle elements can have an impact on teeth grinding. Smokers, for example, are more likely to suffer from bruxism. People who drink more than six cups of coffee a day or who regularly consume alcohol, too are susceptible. Regular drug users are also likely to suffer, particularly those who take methamphetamines, ecstasy or even certain antidepressant medications.
What can I do to stop?
If teeth grinding has you concerned, the good news is there are things you can do. First, try actions that will alleviate stress such as exercise, deep breathing, engaging in relaxing hobbies and other self care activities If you think you are suffering from severe stress or anxiety, go to your doctor to discuss your options.
The next step is to visit your dentist. While unfortunately there is no cure for bruxism, there is a wide variety of treatment options that can help. The most common treatment is occlusal splints. These splints act as mouthguards you can wear at night, keeping your teeth separate and protecting them against grinding. You can have splints made specially for your mouth, so that you don’t experience discomfort when wearing them. Mandibular advancement devices, which are often used to prevent snoring, can also help.
Some people find hypnosis and other similar treatments such as meditation and psychoanalysis helpful. Studies have shown positive outcomes when bruxism sufferers underwent hypnosis treatments to stop teeth grinding.
If crooked or misaligned teeth are causing your teeth grinding, your dentist might suggest braces to help correct the alignment of your teeth. Other treatments might include equilibration, which involves reshaping the surface of your teeth, or cosmetic treatments such as dental crowns, bridges or veneers.
What can I do to fix teeth damaged by teeth grinding?
For teeth that have been worn down or damaged by incessant clenching or grinding, there are solutions to help restore their look, feel and function. Treatment can also work to prevent any more wear or damage, as well as helping to reduce sensitivity.
If your teeth are severely damaged or worn down by grinding, you might consider crowns or veneers to help strengthen your teeth and improve their overall look and feel. Alternatively, composite bonding has become more advanced in recent years and is a popular method for restoring teeth. Composite is a tooth coloured material which is bonded to the tooth’s surface, protecting it and giving a natural appearance. These treatments can help patients who suffer from bruxism to regain confidence in their smiles.
Teeth grinding doesn’t have to cause you pain. Speak to your dentist today about treatment options.
All articles are either written by, or content checked by an ex-General Dental Council (retired) registrant. Information in these articles should not be taken as dental advice and are for general information only, you should always seek advice of your local dentist, if you do not have a local dentist you might like to search our register.