Jaw clenching and excessive teeth grinding – or bruxism – are surprisingly common behaviours. Whilst difficult to accurately measure (given many people don’t even know they’re doing it), teeth grinding and clenching is an issue that affects the oral health and wellbeing of many adults and children.
What’s all the fuss – you might ask?
Excessive teeth grinding can be damaging to your teeth, wearing away the vital enamel that serves to protect them. In extreme cases, grinders may work through the outer and middle layers of their teeth, exposing nerves and requiring root canal treatment.
As well as damaging your teeth, severe grinding and clenching can also affect the quality of your sleep. Which can in turn lead to a raft of health issues like: drowsiness; poor attention span; reduced libido; and an increased risk of serious health problems (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke).
What causes it?
There are several known causes for clenching and grinding. Poorly aligned teeth, responding to pain caused by teething and earaches, hyperactivity and stress can all result in teeth grinding in children. The condition is also known to be common in children who snore and those who breathe through their mouths at night.
Similarly, psychological triggers like stress and anxiety are major triggers for grinding in adults, along with sleep disorders (like sleep apnoea), and lifestyle factors like heavy smoking, caffeine intake, heavy alcohol consumption, and other drug use.
How will you know if you’re grinding?
Despite its prevalence, many people are unaware that they grind their teeth – not helped the fact that a lit of grinding happens during sleep! Often a trip to the dentist first uncovers this behaviour, exposing eroding enamel and a flattening of the teeth line. Other signs that something’s not include:
– Tension headaches and dull headaches
– Aching ears, jaws or facial muscles
– An inability to fully open your mouth
– A clicking or popping sound when you open and close your mouth
– Prolonged tiredness
– Teeth sensitivity
– Loose or cracked teeth
– Parents or siblings who ‘grind’ (yes – bruxism can be inherited!)
Is it treatable?
In short: yes. Treatment is readily available, and it’s not as painful, expensive or invasive as you may think. Options vary depending on when you grind and what’s causing you to do it.
Custom-fitted mouthguards can be effective in preventing the damage caused to your teeth by grinding. However, you may find this treatment doesn’t prevent you from actually grinding, so you may still suffer from tension headaches and other facial aches and pains.
Stress management techniques can be used to reduce the occurrence of grinding and clenching when you are awake. For example, you may find listening to calming music in your car and at your desk – if this is when you are most likely to grind and clench your teeth – can help.
Although most people associate muscle relaxants like botox and dysport with the forever-young beauties gracing the pages of fashion magazines, many people don’t know that these treatments can do far more than reduce wrinkles. Muscle-relaxants are another highly effective treatment for teeth grinding and jaw clenching, relaxing the muscles responsible for this behaviour.
Simply being aware of the fact that you do grind or clench your teeth, and knowing when you are most likely to do it is a step in the right direction, allowing you to treat the symptoms and avoid known triggers. However, if you’re concerned about grinding or jaw clenching and in need professional advice, pop in and see Dr Varma and her friendly team at The Smile Clinique.