Teeth grinding is a problem that affects millions of Americans and can result in serious dental damage. While the problem is common, many with the condition don’t get treatment as early as they need it. This is because a significant amount of teeth grinding happens at night. The signs in the morning may be nonspecific, making it hard to know what’s going on. As a result, it may take years to find out what’s going on; at which point irreversible damage may have been done to your teeth. Here’s what you need to know to stop grinding your teeth today.
Why You Grind Your Teeth
While the exact cause isn’t well understood, there are a few reasons teeth grinding can occur.
- Emotions: Periods of stress, anxiety, anger, frustration or tension can all lead to grinding.
- Personality: Aggressive, competitive or hyperactive people are more likely to grind.
- Habit: Some people grind their teeth when coping with stressful situations or to help focus.
- Substance use: Smoking, drinking caffeinated beverages, alcohol use or illegal drug use can all increase your risk of becoming a grinder.
- Medical conditions: Those with jaw misalignment, sleep problems, acid reflux, Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease, or who take psychiatric medications may also experience teeth grinding as part of their illness.
If you think you might be grinding your teeth, think about whether you fit into one of these categories.
The Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
If you grind your teeth during the day, you may already be aware of the bad habit. But for those who are night grinders, the signs can be subtle. Here are some things to look out for:
- Ask your sleeping partner. Sometimes the grinding of your teeth at night can be loud enough to be audible to another person in the same bed.
- Pay attention to how you feel in the morning. Grinders tend to have pain, soreness or tiredness in their jaw. Your teeth may also be overly sensitive.
- Look for signs of problems. If you’re grinding, your teeth may be flattened, chipped or loose. Also look for damage from chewing the inside of your cheek or side of your tongue.
- It might not be an earache. Sometimes pain coming from the jaw can feel like an earache or a dull headache that starts in the temples.
If you think you might have symptoms, it’s good to keep a journal about what the symptoms are and how often they occur. When you see your doctor about the problem, you’ll have that much more information to figure out what’s going on.
The Effects of Teeth Grinding on Your Health
While the grinding action may not seem too damaging in the moment, in the long term it can wear down your teeth to such a degree that your teeth may need to be restored, replaced or protected with a crown. Symptoms can also worsen over time and some may experience severe tension headaches, facial pain and persistent jaw clicking when opening and closing the mouth.
How You Can Get Diagnosed
Your dentist is the one most likely to pick up on the problem if you haven’t noticed symptoms or figured out what exactly is going on. This is why it’s important to get your teeth checked out at least once a year by a dentist. Sometimes you may have suspicions and talk to your doctor, who will ask about the pattern of symptoms and may check for soreness around the angle of your jaw or look in your mouth for tooth damage. If the diagnosis isn’t clear, either your doctor or dentist may ask for a sleep study to confirm if you’re a nighttime grinder.
There are several options for addressing teeth grinding, some of which just protect the teeth from ongoing damage and others that try to address the underlying issue.
- Protection: Mouth guards are used by many grinders as a way of protecting the teeth from more damage. While this won’t stop the grinding, it at least prevents further destruction until more can be done.
- Dental correction: If the problem is tooth or jaw misalignment, your dentist may be able to correct these issues. This may entail crowns, braces or even surgery.
- Stress management: Many who grind are also stressed. Counseling and relaxation techniques like exercise or meditation can be helpful.
- Behavioral therapy: If your grinding is a bad habit or the result of an improper bite, this can be addressed through education and training about how to change the behavior.
- Biofeedback: This technique helps you monitor the activity of your jaw muscles so you can try to better control them.
- Medications: Medications rarely work well for those who grind their teeth. Muscle relaxants or Botox may be used in some people, but it’s not the first line of recommended treatment.
Finally, there’s no good replacement for assessing your lifestyle and making any changes that might be needed. Decrease stress in your life, avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking in the evening, get a good night’s sleep and see a dentist regularly.