Are You Damaging Your Teeth While You Sleep? (Call Your Orthodontist Today!)

Most of us clench our teeth from time to time—when we’re stressed, nervous, or angry. Occasional clenching or grinding isn’t a problem for most people. It’s when you clench or grind regularly that it can become an issue.

Teeth grinding is called bruxism and, over time, it can lead to tooth damage and oral complications, such as receding gums. If you suspect you’re grinding your teeth at night, schedule a visit with your nearest orthodontist right away.

What are some of the telltale signs and symptoms of bruxism, and how is it treated? We’ll answer these and other questions ahead.

Why Do People Grind Their Teeth?

Teeth grinding is often caused by an abnormal bite or crooked teeth, but stress and anxiety may also be contributing factors for some.

Bruxism can happen during the day or while you sleep at night.

  • Bruxism during waking hours is called “awake bruxism,” and it may be caused by stress, anxiety, stress, frustration, or tension; some people also clench or grind their teeth while concentrating deeply.
  • Bruxism that occurs while you sleep is called “sleep bruxism;” it may be caused by brain activity while you sleep and may worsen during deep sleep or while you’re dreaming.

Obstructive sleep apnea also leads some people to grind their teeth—in fact, one in four people with sleep apnea grinds their teeth at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. 1

Signs and Symptoms of Teeth Grinding

Many people don’t realize they grind their teeth at night until a loved one points it out. Those who do have symptoms may notice:

  • Waking up with a clenched jaw
  • Morning headaches
  • Sore or tight jaw muscles or pain near one or both ears
  • Clicking or cracking noises when chewing or yawning
  • Lockjaw—difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Pain while chewing
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Chipped or cracked teeth
  • Excessive wear on the teeth, especially molar surfaces

See an orthodontist if you notice any of these symptoms.

Risk Factors for Bruxism

The following factors can increase your risk of teeth grinding:

  • Stress: Anxiety, stress, frustration, and tension can all lead to teeth grinding, both during the day and night. Most of us have probably experienced occasional clenching when we’re stressed or angry. People who are prone to anger or who are frequently stressed or under pressure may notice they clench or grind their teeth more often.
  • Personality type: People with aggressive, competitive, or hyperactive personalities are more likely to grind their teeth. 2
  • Age: Bruxism is relatively common in children—in fact, 2 to 3 of every 10 kids will grind their teeth. 3 The good news is that it usually goes away on its own by adulthood. Nevertheless, if you notice your child grinding his or her teeth, schedule a visit with your orthodontist.
  • Medications, alcohol, and other substances: Certain antidepressants can cause bruxism; alcohol, tobacco, caffeinated beverages, and recreational drugs may also lead to grinding.
  • Medical conditions: Parkinson’s disease, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia, epilepsy, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) all may lead to grinding, as well as nightmares and night terrors.

Problems Caused by Grinding

Our teeth are strong and resilient, but they’re not indestructible. Over time, chronic grinding will take its toll on the teeth and gums. Problems caused by grinding can include:

Tooth damage: Chronic teeth grinding can cause the erosion of tooth enamel. The downward pressure of clenching can “squeeze” teeth and cause the protective enamel on the surface to flake away. Grinding can also result in tooth fractures, and it can loosen teeth over time. In severe cases, teeth can be ground down to stumps.

TMJ/TMD: Chronic grinding can damage the jaw bones over time, as well as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It can also worsen temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a condition in which the joints that attach the jaw to the bottom of the skull are misaligned.

Damage to dental work: Not only can grinding damage existing dental work, over time bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, and even partial or complete dentures may be required to fix damage to the teeth caused by grinding. Dental work can be expensive and painful—this is why it’s so important to see an orthodontist to get grinding under control.

How to Stop Clenching and Grinding

Since bruxism is often caused by emotional stress or anxiety, start by addressing these issues. It’s easier to control clenching and grinding during the day when we’re awake, while nighttime grinding is more challenging. Try these steps to relax before bed if you clench at night:

  • Let go of negative thoughts: If worries and fears keep you awake at night, try journaling before bed. “Transfer” your worries onto the pages of your journal, and remind yourself that you’re unlikely to resolve problems in the wee hours of the night.
  • Practice mindful awareness: Once in bed, close your eyes and notice any tension in your jaw. Consciously relax the muscles of the jaw, and try putting the tip of your tongue between your teeth—this can help train your muscles to relax. If you wake up during the night and notice your jaw is clenched or sore, repeat this process of relaxation.
  • Try meditation: An abundance of free apps and videos are available online today to help you practice meditation and breathing techniques, which can help calm racing thoughts and center your attention.

Orthodontic Treatments for Bruxism

If these techniques don’t work, you may need orthodontic care, such as braces, Invisalign, or a nightguard.

Traditional braces: Bruxism may be caused by malocclusion (improper alignment of the teeth) and can be corrected with braces, a time-tested treatment for alignment issues. Braces work by applying constant pressure, which, over time, moves the teeth in a specific direction. The bone holding the teeth in place changes shape as the teeth move.

Braces consist in part of brackets—small squares made of stainless steel, ceramic, or plastic—that are either bonded directly to the surface of the tooth or attached to orthodontic bands (if used). Orthodontic bands wrap around each tooth to anchor the brackets in place.

Additional components, including (but not limited to) arch wires, spacers, ties, elastic rubber bands, and springs, help move the teeth and close any gaps. Your orthodontist will explain exactly how braces work and what equipment you’ll need for your particular situation.

Invisalign braces: An alternative to traditional braces, Invisalign braces straighten the teeth without permanent orthodontic hardware. Rather, Invisalign uses custom-made aligners that you change every 1-3 weeks, depending on your needs and progress.

Nightguard: A custom-made hard or soft plastic nightguard can help protect your teeth from the damage of grinding and clenching, but it’s unlikely to prevent the grinding if the root cause is misalignment or stress. Nevertheless, if you are grinding your teeth, it’s important to address the problem immediately, and a nightguard is a good interim solution.

Don’t Risk Your Smile—See an Orthodontist Today

The skilled orthodontists at Labbe Family Orthodontics provide exceptional care in a patient-centered environment. Our orthodontic practice is committed to helping you achieve your best smile and prevent painful and expensive tooth loss and damage from bruxism. We offer traditional braces, Invisalign, and custom-made nightguards. Please call (410) 267-7300 to schedule an appointment at one of four convenient locations.

Sources

1. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/the-link-between-sleep-apnea-and-teeth-grinding

2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bruxism/symptoms-causes/dxc-20317507

3. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bruxism.html

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