If you or your sleep partner is awakened by the sound of grinding teeth, you might have bruxism, the medical term for teeth grinding and clenching.
According to Mayo Clinic, people who clench or grind their teeth during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Although some people are unaware of their teeth grinding habits, they may experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Reports of teeth grinding or clenching by a person’s sleep partner
- Teeth that are cracked, chipped or loose
- Worn tooth enamel
- Tooth pain or sensitivity
- Tight jaw muscles
- Jaw, face or neck pain or soreness
- Sore gums
- Sleep disturbances
Why Do People Grind Their Teeth?
Although researchers do not fully understand the causes of teeth grinding, studies suggest that a combination of physical, psychological and genetic factors may be the culprit. There are two types of teeth grinding:
- Awake bruxism, which occurs as a result of stress, anger, tension or frustration
- Sleep bruxism, which is a sleep-related movement disorder. This condition is more common in children, with 14 to 20 percent of affected children under age 11, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Risk Factors for Teeth Grinding
Your personality type may affect your chances of having problems with teeth grinding. People with “type A” personality, who are highly driven and ambitious, tend to suffer from the condition. It can also occur if a person is anxious or highly stressed about work or other stressful situations. In addition, drinking caffeinated beverages or smoking cigarettes before bedtime tends to increase teeth grinding.
How is Bruxism Diagnosed?
Many people are diagnosed with teeth grinding when they visit their dentist. A dentist can often identify physical symptoms of teeth grinding, including tooth damage such as cracked or fractured teeth. Focused x-rays can also reveal underlying damage to the bones, teeth and tissues of the face and mouth. Your dentist may monitor your teeth during more than one office visit because multiple examinations are usually needed to make a firm diagnosis.
Is There a Treatment?
One of the main treatments is wearing a custom-made bruxism appliance, also known as an orthotic, which can protect your teeth from excess clenching and grinding. Your dentist can recommend a mouth guard for you that fits properly and comfortably. Other tips that can help you reduce teeth grinding include:
- Avoid alcohol, which can cause grinding to worsen.
- Manage your stress level. Stress and anger can contribute to grinding your teeth. Making lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise or seeing a counselor can help you better manage stress and learn relaxation techniques.
- Do not chew on pencils or anything other than food. Chewing gum can also worsen teeth grinding because your jaw becomes accustomed to clenching when chewing gum.
- Biofeedback may help you learn to retrain your jaw muscles to avoid grinding and clenching.
- Taking certain medications such as muscle relaxants may help prevent grinding. Talk to your dentist about which treatment approach is best for you and your dental health.
Although teeth grinding can be frustrating, the first step is to find out if you have the condition. Visiting your dentist and bringing a complete list of your symptoms can help your dental professional find an appropriate treatment plan. Your dentist may also ask questions about your sleeping habits to determine if you need a sleep study, which can rule out other sleep-related conditions.