Picture this: Your alarm goes off. You roll over and hit snooze — you didn’t sleep very well. But before you can roll back over and catch your extra 10 minutes of zzzs, you notice your teeth feel kind of sore. And your jaw hurts. And is that a headache dully pulsing around your temples?
Sounds like a rough start to a morning, right? More than that, these all sound like signs of bruxism, often referred to as tooth grinding. And it’s more common than you think! An estimated 8% of adults and 15% of adolescents have bruxism, and studies have found anywhere from 6% to 50% of children grind their teeth.
But what causes tooth grinding, and is it really that big of a problem?
In today’s blog post, we’ll take a deeper dive into the main risk factors and symptoms of tooth grinding, how tooth grinding can impact your health, and what you can do to treat it. Let’s get started!
What is tooth grinding?
Tooth grinding is a condition where one involuntarily and excessively grinds, gnashes, or clenches their teeth. It can happen when you’re awake or asleep, though it most commonly occurs during sleep.
The effects of tooth grinding
Many of the patients at our Sunny Isles office are surprised to hear that, most of the time when we clench or grind our teeth, we are unaware we are doing it. Pause reading this blog post for a moment. Are you doing it right now?
But what’s the big deal? Bruxism might seem like a small thing, but moderate to severe cases can cause tooth damage and other problems over time.
- Damage to your teeth and jaw. Without realizing it, especially while asleep, a person may put up to 250 pounds of force on their teeth while grinding or clenching their teeth. With nothing there to act as a buffer, that’s a lot of strain on the teeth. This can lead to chipped or cracked teeth, crowns, or bridges, as well as jaw pain.
- Weakened tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard, protective outer layer of the tooth. The strain of grinding and clenching your teeth can damage it over time, exposing the tooth’s inner layers and leading to tooth sensitivity.
- Tension headaches. One common effect of tooth grinding is developing dull, throbbing headaches near the temples. This often occurs due to muscle tension.
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). TMJ causes pain or tightness in and around the jaw and often appears when the jaw isn’t positioned correctly and becomes inflamed.
- Sleep disorders. Bruxism falls into the category of sleep disorders — plus it’s also been linked with a few others, notably, sleep apnea.
What causes tooth grinding?
Researchers are still looking for a definite cause of bruxism, but there are some risk factors commonly associated with the condition. They include:
- Feelings of stress, anxiety, or anger – Thought to be the number one cause of tooth grinding, these strong feelings can cause the body to involuntarily tense up, often manifesting by clenching the jaw and teeth.
- Misaligned bite – When the top and bottom teeth don’t fit together, it can lead to you subconsciously grinding your teeth.
- Age – Bruxism is a fairly common condition among children, and becomes less common with age.
- Family history – Interestingly enough, bruxism runs in families! If you have a close relative like a parent or grandparent who has experienced bruxism, you are more likely to develop it as well.
- Medications – certain medications, like antidepressants, may increase the likelihood of developing tooth grinding or clenching.
How do you know if you grind your teeth?
- Grinding or clenching your teeth, the sound of which may be loud enough to wake up your sleep partner
- Pain, soreness, or tightness in the jaw, neck, and face muscles
- Teeth that appear worn or flat at the bottom
- Tooth sensitivity or pain, especially if it begins increasing
- Fractured, chipped, or loose teeth
- A dull headache, typically forming around the temples
- Jaw tightness or a jaw that locks or won’t open and close
- Poor sleep quality
Treatments for tooth grinding
Also referred to as night guards, these can be a great solution for those suffering from sleep bruxism. When we are asleep, we are often unaware of how hard we might grind or clench our teeth. That’s where a mouthguard comes in. Often custom-made out of hard acrylic, the mouth guard fits over your top or bottom teeth and acts as a barrier between your teeth while you sleep.
Not only can these help protect your teeth from damage, but if fit correctly, they can also help alleviate jaw tension by keeping your bite properly aligned.
There are also over-the-counter night guards available at most stores. These guards are often made of a soft plastic that you can boil and bite to create a mouthguard. They are often less expensive, but may not be a great treatment option, depending on the severity of your bruxism.
If you suspect your tooth grinding is caused by stress or anxiety, there are some easy steps you can take to start feeling relief in your teeth and jaw. A few you may consider trying:
- Trying out different breathing exercises
— We’re partial to box breathing, where you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and repeat.
- Regularly practicing yoga or meditation
- Jaw exercises and relaxation techniques
- Head, face, or neck massages
- Regular exercise
Over the years, botox has gained a reputation for being purely cosmetic, but that just isn’t true. Botox is a natural muscle relaxant and has been found to help ease pain and tension in and around the jaw muscles. It has even been found to reduce the frequency of tooth grinding or clenching after treatment@
Grinding your teeth? Sedation Dentistry of Sunny Isles can help
If you are experiencing symptoms of bruxism or suspect you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep, contact our Sunny Isles office today! Our educated team has helped hundreds of patients dealing with tooth grinding, and look forward to helping you too.