Occasional teeth grinding (bruxism) doesn’t usually cause harm, and most people clench and grind their teeth from time to time. However, when it occurs regularly, many oral health complications may arise and teeth can get damaged.
Until recently, doctors and dentists didn’t really know what causes teeth grinding. The theory was that teeth grinding was caused by stress. Today, it’s accepted that it’s also an instinctive response that helps us survive, and the latest research has changed how we treat teeth grinding and diagnose sleep apnea.
Why teeth grinding occurs?
Teeth grinding can be caused by anxiety and stress. On the other hand, grinding that occurs during sleep is more likely caused by crooked or missing teeth, an abnormal bite, or by sleep apnea (sleeping disorder). The brain cycles through deeper and lighter sleep stages during the night, and as it approaches deep sleep, the muscles in the body start to relax. When fully relaxed, the tongue expands to almost twice its size, while the jaw becomes heavy, both blocking the airway path. while studying people with partial airway blockage during sleep, researchers found out that teeth grinding is responsible for reopening the airway, getting them to breathe normally again.
In case of obstructive sleep apnea, teeth grinding can occur regularly, resulting in loosening, fracturing, or loss of teeth. When this happens, one may need crowns, bridges, implants, root canals, partial or even complete dentures.
How to find out if you grind your teeth?
Most people are unaware of their teeth grinding, as it often occurs during sleep. Many people find about it when their partner hears their grinding at night, but a constant jaw soreness or headaches upon waking up can be a sign of teeth grinding. Talk to your dentist, if you suspect that you may be grinding your teeth, so he can examine your jaw or mouth for signs of bruxism, like excessive wear on your teeth or jaw tenderness.
Consequences of teeth grinding
Teeth grinding may make the obstruction of airways even worse. However, if you suffer from chronic sleep deficiency due to sleep apnea, there can be serious consequences. Your body gets roused from deep sleep because grinding causes muscles to tense up. This is when we get most of the health benefits of sleep – the body releases human growth hormone, which improves memory, tightens skin, reverses the aging process, helps build up muscle and burn fat. If not treated, sleep apnea can result in increased risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, anxiety, depression, and automobile accidents. Years of teeth grinding eventually damage the jaw joint and teeth.
How to treat chronic teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding can be cured by treating the source of the problem, not the symptoms. If you realize that you’re grinding your teeth, you most likely have a small airway which tends to get blocked during your sleep. If it’s caused by stress, talk to your dentist, doctor, or psychologist about ways to reduce your daily stress. See a physical therapist, start an exercise program, attend stress counselling, or get a prescription for muscle relaxants.
In case your teeth grinding is caused by a sleep disorder, the grinding habit can be eliminated or reduced by treating the disorder. Other ways for stopping teeth grinding include reducing alcohol intake, cutting back on or avoiding drinks and foods that contain caffeine (coffee, chocolate, and sodas). Don’t chew gum and anything that’s not food (pens, pencils, and fingernails) as your jaw muscles will get more used to clenching, thus worsening the grinding habit. Hold a warm washcloth against your cheek to relax your jaw muscles, and train yourself not to grind or clench your teeth by positioning the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This will train your jaw muscles to relax.
Occasional teeth grinding that’s caused by anxiety and stress can be treated more easily once you notice the symptoms and treat the source of the problem. In case grinding happens because of a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, the problem is more serious, and you should consult your doctor for treatment options.