Teeth grinding and clenching are common habits, but that doesn't mean they are harmless. Stresses from the powerful forces generated by grinding and clenching (also known as “bruxing”) can wear down teeth or even loosen them. Teeth that have enamel worn away or scraped off from this repeated rubbing action may become sensitive to hot or cold. And dental work such as crowns and fillings may get damaged. Bruxism can also lead to jaw pain and/or headaches.
Even if you have experienced some of these signs and symptoms, you may not realize you are a bruxer — particularly if your habit is nocturnal, as is often the case. Yet the evidence of tooth damage may become obvious during your regular checkup and cleaning. Dentists can also help you break the habit, relieve any pain you are experiencing, and repair any damage to your teeth or dental work.
Why do we grind or clench our teeth?
The most common reason for grinding/clenching habits is stress, which can affect our health in various ways. Some people experience stomach pain or skin breakouts; bruxing is yet another manifestation. Sometimes people grind their teeth because of misaligned teeth or other bite problems. Using stimulating substances such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs can also put you at risk. Additionally, teeth grinding is believed to be an uncommon side effect of certain medications.
What can be done?
Sometimes simply becoming aware of the habit can help you to get it under control. If stress is the issue, try to find healthy ways of managing it: exercise, meditation, listening to relaxing music, or a warm bath may help. Your teeth will be monitored over time at the dental office to make sure the problem is not worsening.
If damage to your teeth or existing dental work is evident, we may recommend a custom-made nightguard, also known as an “occlusal guard,” may be recommended. It resembles an athletic mouthguard. Made of comfortable plastic, the guard is worn at night to keep your teeth from actually contacting each other. It also helps protect your jaw joints from excessive force.
If a bite problem exists where some teeth are hitting before the others (all of your teeth should hit at the same time), it can sometimes be treated by removing a tiny bit of enamel from an individual tooth that is sticking up a bit (and therefore receiving too much force) to bring it in line with the others. This is known as a bite adjustment. If your malocclusion (bad bite) is more serious, orthodontics might be recommended. Replacing any teeth that are missing can also help stabilize your bite by inhibiting the shifting of teeth that occurs when extra space is left open by missing teeth.
A word about kids: Teeth grinding is very common in children, especially when they are shedding their baby teeth. Since they often outgrow it, treatment is not usually recommended.