Grinding of teeth, or even clenching, can be bad for your dental health. It can cause headaches, damaged teeth and jaw problems.
The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism, and it can occur day or night. Many people do not even know they grind their teeth at night until a spouse or dentist makes them aware of it. A dentist will notice that the teeth have considerable wear, or have other damage like chips and cracks. Other symptoms include jaw or or facial muscle pain, headaches, and sensitive teeth.
The cause of bruxism is not well understood. Researches speculate it may be caused by a number of reasons such as stress, suppressed anger or aggression, or poor jaw alignment. It may be an uncommon side effect of some medications, or it may be a complication of a disorder like Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease.
The wear and tear grinding does to your teeth is a cause for concern. In serious cases, it can lead to chronic pain or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders.
In many cases, no treatment is needed since it may not be bad enough to damage your teeth or cause pain. Children typically outgrow bruxism without any treatment. For those who do need treatment, likely therapies include stress management, dental guard or splint, and behavior therapy.
Since stress can trigger grinding or make it worse, taking steps to reduce stress and to learn strategies of coping with stress are key to ending the behavior. Relaxation exercises and meditation practice are common remedies included in treatment.
Mouth guards are available over the counter and are the least expensive option for a dental appliance. Another option is to get a custom fit guard made from your dentist. These will be more comfortable, and are less likely to move or come out during night time griding. Splints are another option and are usually made of hard acrylic. Depending on the office, these might be made at your dentist or they might have to be made in a laboratory and shipped back to you.
Behavior therapy is the practice of a new habit. This will involve making a concious effort to relax your jaw, resting your tongue on the roof of your mouth with teeth apart. Biofeedback is a helpful tool when learning this type of new behavior. Biofeedback will connect electrical sensors to partsof your body to monitor and give you information about your body’s responses. In this case, the sensors will be on your face, jaw, or head and will give a beep to let you know when the muscles are contracting and you need to relax them.
While bruxism is not usually a serious problem, for some it warrants some intervention to preserve healthy teeth and jaw.