Have you ever noticed after a particularly stressful incident (think driving, a difficult conversation, or a scary movie) just how clenched your teeth and jaw really were? Often you have no idea you are clenching until after the fact, when you are able to relax and the muscles return to a calmer state.
Grinding or clenching your teeth, called bruxism, is common and often not a concern when done occasionally during short term stressful situations. This normal reaction is shared by many people.
Grind While You Sleep
The potential damage with grinding and clenching becomes an issue when the problem occurs on a regular basis. This may be triggered due to stress or anxiety, but more often it is seen in patients who clench and grind while sleeping, a generally very relaxed state. The reason for the grinding is thought to be less about stress level and more about an abnormal bite, missing or crooked teeth. It is also believed that sleeping conditions such as sleep apnea can play a significant role in how much clenching or grinding happens at night.
Finding Out if You Grind
Since much of the grinding and clenching problems tend to present themselves while sleeping, it can be difficult to know for sure if you are doing it. Recurring headaches, insomnia, and worn tooth surfaces can be strong indicators something is happening in your mouth and jaw. If you don’t know for sure, you can definitely talk with your dentist about her opinion of what is happening. You can also participate in an overnight sleep study at a sleep clinic to identify the degree to which you are clenching.
Once you know what is actually happening, you can plan to lower your stress, be more organized, and identify other initiatives to combat the stress that is causing the grinding.
When is Grinding a Problem?
Severe clenching and grinding can be very disruptive in some cases. It is possible chronic teeth grinding can result in a fracturing, loosening, or loss of teeth or even wear teeth down to stumps. This type of pressure on the tooth can result in needing one of the following: crown, bridge, implants, root canals, partial or complete dentures.
Severe grinding can also lead to other serious concerns such as TMJ and changing the overall shape of your face.
What to do if you are grinding
Once you have confirmed you have a grinding problem, there are a few key steps you will want to do immediately.
1. Mouthguard: Most importantly, you will want a mouthguard to prevent your top and bottom chewing surfaces from bumping into each other.
2. Identify the source: Next you will want to focus on the source of the grinding – general stress, single stressful event, overall life change.
3. Make changes: If the clenching can be eliminated by lowering stress, it’s important to seek ways to lower your stress level and allow your calm state of mind to flourish. Minimizing the amount of caffeine you put in your system will help for sure, as will less alcohol. If there your dentist identifies structural issues that need resolved, gain a clear understanding of what will be required and make a plan of action to get everything done. This may take time, as does lowering your stress level, so have patience with yourself.
Once you give your mouth a small amount of attention to determine if you are grinding and clenching and to what degree you are causing damage, you will realize that a few simple steps will eliminate a large amount of any related pain or discomfort.
Changing Lives, One Smile at a Time
Dr. Randall Burba is an AACD accredited dentist, practicing in Salem, MA. He considers himself an artist – with teeth and beyond! He often paints, draws and has a passion for woodworking. Follow Burba Dental Partners on Twitter and Facebook.