Gritting your teeth and getting on with it may not be such a good idea

Your teeth are not meant to be clenched and in contact all the time. They should only briefly touch each other when you swallow or chew. If they are in contact too often or too forcefully, it can wear down the tooth enamel that covers each tooth and without this to protect the inner parts of your teeth, you may have serious dental problems.

Woman holding mouthguard on white

Clenching or grinding your teeth regularly can also lead to pain in the jaw or in the muscles of the face. This is called Bruxism and it is the habit of clenching, gnashing or grinding your teeth. It happens mostly during sleep, but some people also suffer from this when they’re awake.

Who has bruxism?

It is thought that about half of the population grinds their teeth from time to time. But it may only be serious in about 1 in 20 cases. About 30% of children grind or clench their teeth too, but most children grow out of this and will suffer no lasting effects to their adult teeth.

How do I know if I have it?

You may not know that you grind your teeth while you are asleep. A bed partner may be the first person to notice the distinctive grinding sounds and noises. Other clues may be morning symptoms of a dull headache, jaw muscles that hurt or are tight, trouble opening the mouth wide, long lasting pain in the face, damage to the teeth and broken dental fillings.

If you’re not sure, your dentist can check and help you to work out if you have bruxism. He’ll ask you a series of questions and your overall dental health will be checked. This may include looking for any wear and damage to your teeth, checking the muscles in and around your jaw, and the function of the jaw joints, which are just in front of your ears. They may need to look at changes to your teeth and mouth over a number of visits to work out whether the cause is bruxism. It can take time to assess done this way and it can cost a reasonable amount of money to do so,

They may even suggest a sleep study may be needed. This will show how much you move your jaw while asleep. A sleep study looking for bruxism by itself is not common, but may also uncover other sleep problems that often accompany bruxism such as heavy snoring or obstructive sleep apnoea.

Bruxism is often increased as a problem by stress, concentration, or sickness, and can also be caused by excessive alcohol consumption and drug use. Most sufferers don’t know they have it despite the symptoms being clear.

What causes it?
There are many different and varied reasons for bruxism. These includes emotional stress such as anger and anxiety, drug use such as using stimulants, having to concentrate hard, illness, not having enough water in your body, the wrong diet, sleep problems, teething (in babies), bad tooth alignment and problems with dental work. Some people can also get bruxism as a side effect of taking antidepressants. If you let your doctor know of this side effect, you may be changed to a different drug.

How is bruxism treated?
There are many treatments available for bruxism, and they even include relaxation and awareness techniques. Counselling may be recommended as help to relieve stress in your life and improving the quality of your sleep can be of real benefit. This may include reducing the use of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, having enough sleep, making sure you keep a good bedtime routine, and stopping snoring by using a stop snoring device. Treating sleep apnoea in some people may also help to control bruxism.

There are no medications that will stop sleep bruxism and all dentists will suggest you use a mouth guard. They can be used straight from the box or one can be made to fit your dental profile exactly. Neither is expensive, and will save the dental problems as well as all the other issues. A fitted guard is obviously more efficient to use and more comfortable to wear.

It will help protect the teeth, muscles and jaw joint from the pressure of clenching and grinding. It will not stop the bruxism happening, but it will lessen the damage to your teeth and relieve much of the associated pain.

Can it get worse?
Many cases of bruxism are mild and cause little harm and if so, the person usually does not know that they are grinding their teeth. More serious cases may damage the teeth and result in facial pain and poor sleep. Nightly sounds can also wake other people sleeping nearby such as roommates and sleeping partners. If you know that you have this problem, then you should take immediate action to prevent any serious further consequences.

Don’t let life be a grind. Guard against it.

John Redfern