We all do it to some degree, whether it’s conscious or not – When you hear a bellowing siren hurry by as you pull your car off-road to move out of an emergency vehicle’s path, or you’re running like a mad-person for your bus because the next one is in 30 minutes and would make you late for that VERY important meeting – there are many a reason to clench or gnash our teeth together in any given day, but when its done unconsciously & persistently, it can lead to problems such as tension headaches, ear pain, or blunt and sensitive teeth – if these symptoms ring true for you, then yes, teeth grinding could be a problem.
The medical term given to teeth grinding is bruxism; the unconscious clenching or grinding of teeth. There are two types of bruxism – daytime bruxism – when you unconsciously clench or grind your teeth during waking hours, and sleep bruxism, when you grind or clench your teeth while sleeping. Sleep bruxism is considered to be a sleep-related movement disorder that often accompanies other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, and snoring.
In one survey it was estimated that 8% of adults grind their teeth at night, it also showed that more then a third of the parents surveyed suspected that their children might also suffer from bruxism.
In most cases, bruxism doesn’t cause major problems and may be a short-lived habit that will go away on its own. However in severe cases, bruxism can lead to damage to your teeth due to the teeth being worn down by constant grinding, weakening of tooth enamel, severe facial or jaw pain, tension-type headaches, an earache type pain, or TMJ disorder (link to TMJ blog post).
The exact causes are unknown, however, some causes play a common theme with most sufferers. Bruxism disorder has been linked to stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, or tension – be that mental or physical, alcohol or caffeine consumption, cigarette smoking, sleep apnea, snoring, and extreme fatigue.
Since the causes are unknown, treatment is varied. If you suspect you or a family member suffers from bruxism a good place to begin treatment is by minimizing or learning to deal with stress. In addition, stretches for your shoulders, neck, and jaw before bedtime can help, avoid stimulating substances in the evening, and practice good sleeping habits. It is also good to note that bruxism often goes away on its own in young children.
However, if your case is severe or persistent then it is recommended you see a dentist to evaluate the severity. They will evaluate any damage to your teeth, mouth, and jaw, assess areas of tenderness, and dental abnormalities. They may want to do this over a few visits to determine if you need further treatment. This is yet another reason why regular dental check-ups are necessary for optimum dental health and well-being.