What is tooth grinding?
Technically known as ‘bruxism’, grinding is the act of clenching or grinding your upper teeth against your lower teeth when you are sleeping and/or when awake. Up to 10 per cent of people experience teeth grinding and clenching. Although there is no definitive way to eliminate this habit, there are treatments that can help to reduce and alleviate the causes, effects and symptoms.
How do I know if I’m doing it?
The signs of clenching and grinding are not always obvious. However, you may notice one or several of the following:
- tight and tender jaw muscles
- generalised aching of the teeth
- frequent tension headaches
- even earaches.
You may also notice that your teeth feel jagged or sharp, or that your fillings tend to chip or fall out. A partner may even complain that you are keeping them awake with the sound of grinding!
When you visit us for your regular check-up, your dentist will make a thorough assessment and look for any signs of bruxism.
What causes it?
Teeth grinding can be caused by a combination of factors and it is important to discover these so that steps can be taken to address them and the most appropriate treatment can be administered by your dentist.
Some causes include:
- stress and anxiety: this could be from either life situations or disorders
- intense concentration, whether sitting at a desk working or going hard at the gym
- physical stress/chronic pain, such as neck or back pain
- some drugs and medications: caffeine, alcohol, amphetamines
- sleep disorders – for example, sleep apnoea
- malocclusion of the teeth: when the teeth or jaws are not properly aligned.
What effects does it have?
Some of the problems caused by teeth grinding are:
- tooth wear and damage
- cracked and broken teeth or fillings
- toothache or generalised aching teeth
- jaw pain
- headaches and/or ear pain
- tooth sensitivity
- damage to the tissues on the inside of the cheeks
- indentations on the sides of the tongue
What can be done about it?
Firstly, try to discover the underlying cause for your clenching and grinding. In some instances, dealing with the reason can solve the problem.
Some of the following can help:
- stress management and relaxation techniques
- reducing the consumption of caffeine and alcohol
- a sleep study to determine whether you have sleep apnoea or any other sleep disorder
- seeing a physiotherapist for treatment of sore or tight muscles
- orthodontic work to fix misaligned teeth or jaws.
Use some of these techniques to alleviate symptoms:
- a heat pack on the sides of the face
- massaging the muscles
- reducing the chewing of chewing gum, as this can further aggravate the muscles
- pain relief medication.
Your dentist may recommend the construction of a night guard, also known as an occlusal splint. A night guard is made of a rigid or soft plastic that you wear on either your upper or lower teeth, depending on what your dentist deems most appropriate. This helps to create a buffer between the jaws, which will protect your teeth from further wear and damage, and also helps to relax the jaw muscles.
Dr Kiran Jawanda
BOH, GDipDent (Griff)