Grinding your teeth is a bummer. It’s a problem that affects nearly one in ten people, and many don’t even realize they’re doing it. Being unaware that you grind your teeth can be a real problem given just how harmful it can be. Here’s how to find out if you grind your teeth when you sleep—and why it’s something you shouldn’t ignore.
Teeth clenching and grinding in your sleep, with no functional purpose, is known medically as sleep bruxism. Grinding, just as it sounds, involves your lower jaw moving back and forth, creating an audible sound. On the other hand, clenching involves sustained forceful tooth contact without major jaw movement. Both have extreme consequences.
Your teeth are initially very strong and are made of the same minerals as your bone structure. But when you grind or clench, you’re exerting hundreds of pounds of force on these strong, but small, tooth structures.
What happens when I grind my teeth?
Your teeth can fracture and crack
I think this is probably the most obvious symptom. If you continuously put pressure on your teeth, they will crack or loosen. With time, the condition may lead to crowns, root canals, implants, bridges, partial dentures, and even complete dentures.
Your teeth may flatten.
The chronic grinding may wear your teeth down to stumps. The back teeth of chronic bruxers often lose their cusps (the various points on the tops of the teeth) and natural contours, appearing flat, as if they had been worked over with sandpaper like a wood floor. When your front teeth are affected, your biting surfaces are flattened and damaged. If you notice that all of your teeth are exactly the same length and extremely straight or flat, you are probably grinding and should speak with your dentist right away.
Permanent Enamel Loss
Saying “permanent enamel loss” is a bit redundant – ALL ENAMEL LOSS IS PERMANENT. I talk a lot about enamel in these articles because it is the only substance protecting your teeth from bacteria and disease, and once it’s gone, it’s gone! You need to do everything you can to keep your lifetime allotment of enamel on your teeth.
The hundreds of pounds of pressure inflicted on your teeth through grinding and clenching cause your enamel to break down, making it easier for bacteria to penetrate the softer part of your teeth and produce cavities. Also, instead of a beautiful off-white enamel cover, bruxers start to see the yellowish dentin, making their smile appear dull.
I have patients who practice excellent oral hygiene, and only start getting cavities when their enamel is finally broken down due to grinding. It can be so frustrating to take such good care of your teeth and then get cavities from something that happens in your sleep!
Jaw Pain + TMJ Syndrome
In addition to abnormal tooth wear, bruxers experience tenderness and pain in their jaw muscles, and headaches (particularly after waking up). Bruxism is a leading cause of TMJ syndrome, a condition in which your jaw joints become damaged and can cause you a lot of pain.
Why do I grind my teeth?
I wish I could tell you why, but the cause of sleep bruxism remains unknown. There are, however studies that have found some interesting associations.
- Often bruxism is hereditary. If you are a bruxer, you may want to bring this up to your children’s dentist. There is a good chance they will have the same issue.
- Bruxism can be associated with stress and anxiety—a so-called carryover effect that’s experienced as stress during the day and is carried over during sleep.
- Bruxers tend to be more depressed than non-bruxers, and they experience higher levels of hostility and stress sensitivity.
- Studies have shown that bruxing children tend to be more anxious than non-bruxers.
How do I know if I grind my teeth?
The signs and symptoms of bruxism are not pleasant, nor are they always obvious. Here are a few things you can look for:
- If you wake up in the morning and your jaw and the surrounding muscles feel tight or tired
- Snoring (Often people with sleep apnea are also bruxers)
- Jaw pain or clicking in the jawbone when you open your mouth
- Chronic headaches
- Tooth sensitivity
- If your fillings are breaking out before they should, there is a good chance that you’re grinding and clenching is causing the adhesive to wear down prematurely, and break out (fillings typically last a minimum of five years for the average person with good oral hygiene).
- If either of your parents grind — it’s often hereditary, so you should tell your dentist.
You may want to ask your spouse if he or she ever hear you snoring or grinding your teeth at night. The best way to diagnose grinding is to ask your dentist. At Anderson Dental Care we check for signs of grinding in all our patients, but if you haven’t been to the dentist in a bit, you may not realize that it’s happening.
How do I protect my teeth?
Ok, so the bad news is that there is no known “cure” for bruxism. Because people often grind for different reasons, it’s hard to offer concrete medical advice. However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of bruxism.
Ask your Dentist for a Night Guard
A night guard is a piece of acrylic that is fitted to either your top or bottom set of teeth. You wear the guard at night to create a buffer between your teeth as you grind and clench in your sleep.
While a night guard won’t make you stop grinding, the acrylic will get destroyed instead of your teeth (and it will take a lot longer to wear down). If you are a bruxer, getting and wearing a night guard is the most financially proactive thing you can do for your teeth. The cost of broken teeth is much more expensive than the price of a night guard.
The most important part about your night guard is that it’s as comfortable as possible so that you actually wear it – EVERY NIGHT! Don’t be that person who finally gets the magic wand and never uses it! I am a grinder myself, and I wear my night guard religiously! If I travel and forget it at home, I notice it in the morning because I haven’t slept nearly as well and my jaw hurts.
The key to having a comfortable night guard is to make sure you get one from a dentist who can custom make it for your exact bite. At our Cincinnati dental office, making sure your mouthguard fits perfectly and is comfortable is our first priority. If it’s not comfortable, chances are you won’t wear it.
Buying a sports mouth guard at the pharmacy is better than nothing, but it won’t last long and it won’t alleviate the symptoms as effectively as a custom night guard can because it’s based on an impression of your mouth — the shape, the placement of the teeth, and the points of contact between your top and bottom teeth.
Fitting patients for night guards, making the guards comfortable so they get worn, and then seeing the benefits for our patients makes our Cincinnati office of dental nerds really happy! Don’t hesitate to call the office at 513-817-0834 or make an appointment online.
If you know you grind your teeth (or if you’re concerned you might), and you’ve been putting off seeing a dentist due to cost, you’ll be happy to know that we provide an affordable alternative to paying out of pocket or pricey dental insurance.
At Anderson Dental Care we offer a PREMIER DENTAL CARE MEMBERSHIP, our members save 20% on dental procedures and get anywhere from 2-4 maintenance cleanings a year. Packages start at $31/month.