The Daily Grind: 4 Common Questions About Tooth Grinding
Can you hear it? That crunchy, clickity-clackity sound coming from the mouth of your sleeping partner, your child, or even yourself? It’s the sound of teeth grinding and not many people enjoy it. When people grind or clench their teeth, the damage to teeth and gums can range from minimal to severe. So, what is it and how can you prevent it? Here are answers to 4 common questions about tooth grinding.
Bruxism? What’s That? The official dental term for tooth grinding is bruxism. Bruxism is a fairly common habit, the definitive cause of which is still unclear. Most research points to stress as a common cause, but it can also be caused by medications or certain medical conditions like anxiety, digestive ailments, and cerebral palsy. Bruxism can be periodic and involve side-to-side movement of the jaw and teeth. Or, it can be a more sustained pressure or clenching. It can occur when you’re sleeping, during the day, or both. Often times, people with bruxism are completely unaware they’re doing it, even when it’s severe. Bruxism can cause lack of sleep; sore facial muscles; headaches; gum recession; fractured, “shortened,” loose or painful teeth; even shoulder and muscle stiffness.
Who Does It Affect? Bruxism tends to be more common in people who consume excessive amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol, as well in those who smoke, or suffer from depression, anxiety or hyperactivity. Children often grind their teeth during teething or when they’re suffering from an earache. The motion of grinding teeth can actually be soothing in response to response to the pain caused by these conditions. Kids will usually outgrow these habits, so more often than not no intervention is needed—unless they’re doing significant damage to their primary teeth or any fillings or crowns they might have.
What’s The Damage? Since many people grind their teeth without being aware of it, it’s often their dentist who first notices the signs of damage. If your dentist thinks you may be grinding your teeth, he or she will probably ask you about any symptoms you may be having. If the biting surfaces of your teeth have become flattened or worn, this can lead to increased sensitivity, particularly to temperature. If your teeth grinding is particularly severe, the enamel, or outermost covering, of your teeth can wear away. This will expose the next layer of tooth structure, called dentin. Dentin is much more sensitive to temperature, susceptible to decay, and often, more yellow in color. Once you lose enamel, it cannot grow back. The challenge then becomes repairing damage, protecting your teeth from further damage, and preventing symptoms.
What Can Be Done About It? If your bruxism is associated with stress, medication, or a medical condition, addressing these root causes can sometimes alleviate your teeth grinding as well. Apart from that, the best course of action is to use an occlusal guard, more commonly called a “mouth guard.” This is a piece of plastic or acrylic, custom-made for you and designed to evenly distribute forces; remove direct, concentrated forces on teeth; and prevent damage. The basic idea is to wear out the guard instead of your teeth—or any expensive crowns or veneers you might have.
Life can be a grind, but that doesn’t mean your teeth should be, too. If you’re worried about how bruxism affects the health of your teeth or the teeth of someone you love, VCC’s Dental Health team can help
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The medical information contained on this article is general in nature and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for the advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by your own physician or a qualified healthcare provider. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with your own physician or a qualified healthcare provider. Although every effort is made to ensure the information provided is accurate and timely, it is provided for convenience and should not be considered official.