The hidden danger in your mouth: Grinding your teeth

tooth grinding headache

Do you ever wake up in the morning with an aching jaw or a headache?

If this happens to you on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you are grinding your teeth in your deep sleep – and you don’t even realise you are doing it.

About half the population grinds their teeth from time to time and the majority of teeth grinding is mild and causes very little harm.  About 30% of children grind or clench their teeth but most grow out of it and suffer no ill effects.

But about one in 20 people are regular, forceful tooth grinders.  Ouch!

This is the sort of chronic teeth grinding that can become problematic.  It can also be very noisy so you may find yourself unpopular with your sleeping partner or room-mate!

What IS teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding is officially known as bruxism (yep it’s an unusual word that you don’t hear used too often – unless you work in a dental practice!)

Bruxism is the involuntary clenching, gnashing and grinding of your teeth.

If your teeth are in contact too often or too forcefully, you can, over time wear down your tooth enamel, the outer layer that protects your tooth.

If the second layer, the dentin, becomes exposed this can lead to tooth sensitivity. Without the enamel to protect your teeth, you can end up with some serious (and potentially costly) dental problems.

Symptoms of teeth grinding

You can be a ‘bruxer’ and not know it!  There are several tell-tale signs to look for:

  1. Headaches or pain in the jaw joint
  2. Aching teeth – particularly in the morning or after waking up
  3. Teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold temperatures
  4. Stiffness in the face (or temples) immediately after waking up
  5. Teeth marks (indentations) on the tongue
  6. Chipped or cracked tooth enamel
  7. Loose teeth
  8. Ear-ache
  9. Grinding sounds whilst sleeping
  10. Noticeably clenching the jaw when stressed or anxious

Causes of teeth grinding

One of the leading causes of tooth grinding— is stress.

Dentists have long connected stress to teeth grinding. Anger, anxiety and physical stress can cause your mouth to tense up and cause grinding in your sleep (and sometimes when you are awake).

Some people are also prone to tooth grinding when they are locked in deep concentration. If you notice yourself or your child doing this involuntarily while awake, then there is a good chance the grinding also happens during sleep.

Sometimes missing teeth or a misaligned bite can cause you to grind.

Lifestyle choices like alcohol, smoking and high caffeine intake can sometimes play a role too. 

And bruxism is also listed as a side effect of some antidepressants and amphetamines – so if you are a grinder, check your prescriptions!

Other causes ….

While stress and anxiety have been identified as THE most common cause, there is new evidence to suggest another culprit.  Sleep apnoea. 

Sleep apnoea is now considered to be strongly associated with chronic tooth grinding.

In this case, the grinding has less to do with stress.  As your body cycles through the various stages of sleep, many of your muscles relax.   For some people, relaxing the jaw and tongue obstructs their airway.

The physical act of clenching the jaw and grinding teeth actually serves to reopen the airway. In that sense, tooth grinding is a sort of automatic measure of self-preservation.  It allows you to continue breathing.

Sleep apnoea can be a serious problem. So if it turns out that your tooth grinding is related to sleep apnoea, then treating the apnoea will also correct the chronic grinding.

Your doctor will be able to advise on how to best treat your sleep apnoea and you may need to undertake a sleep study to find out what is going on during your shut-eye.

Treatment options

At Taree Dental Care we can help patients who suffer from persistent teeth grinding.  We will ask you some questions and check your teeth for wear and any damage, as well as check the muscles in and around your jaw.

There are no quick-fixes or medications to stop bruxism.

There are other treatments available, including relaxation techniques or counselling to help relieve stress if that is the cause.  Or even chiropractic adjustments to realign your jaw. Botox has also been successful to relax jaw muscles.

Treating sleep apnoea may also help to control the problem.

At Taree Dental Care we can also make a custom dental mouthguard to wear while sleeping.  

Remember though that the mouthguard doesn’t treat the causes of teeth grinding – but it does work as an excellent stop-gap to protect your teeth while you work to address the root cause.

If you think you grind your teeth, or you know someone who does, then give us a call on 6550 0960, OR head to our website to make an appointment.  

Teeth grinding is not something to simply ignore.

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