We all go through stressful times or experience anxiety at one point or another. And as we all know, there’s a thousand different ways to respond when life throws you a curveball. If your response is to grind or clench your teeth, you’re not alone; involuntary teeth grinding and clenching — also called “bruxism” — happens to children and adults alike, when awake, or, more commonly, when asleep. In fact, about 15-33% of children grind their teeth at one point or another during childhood, while about 8% of middle-aged adults grind or clench their teeth.
At Shoreline Dental Studio, we’ve had many patients come to us because of teeth grinding and clenching and want help alleviating the issue. With good reason — teeth grinding and clenching can cause dental issues, pain, and other complications. However, if you’re not sure you have bruxism, let’s talk about it here so you have a better picture of the condition. We’ll cover:
- What is Teeth Grinding and Clenching?
- Teeth Grinding in Children
- Teeth Grinding Causes
- Signs & Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
- Complications of Teeth Grinding
- Bruxism Treatment
What Is Teeth Grinding And Clenching?
Typically, our upper and lower teeth come in contact with each other for about five minutes every day. Like when we chew or smile. This minimal pressure on our tooth enamel only results in slight wear on our enamel over the years, or maybe a chip here or there if we accidentally bite down on something hard. At night, a small amount of mouth movement is normal during sleep: up to 60% of people occasionally make chewing motions during REM sleep called “rhythmic masticatory muscle activities,” or RMMA.
So when is it considered bruxism? Simply put, bruxism is when you subconsciously grind or clench your teeth together, even when there’s no immediate stressor or external cause. Now, we should mention that there’s a difference between occasional and habitual teeth grinding. If you’re only infrequently grinding your teeth at night or during the day, this might not have any adverse effects. But if you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep on a regular basis or it’s a constant daytime habit, your bruxism could be cause for concern.
Teeth Grinding Causes
Why do people grind their teeth? There’s a variety of reasons: mental health, lifestyle habits, even genetics can play a role in grinding teeth at night or in the daytime.
Stress or Anxiety – As we mentioned earlier on, stress and anxiety can lead to teeth grinding and clenching and it’s safe to say that these are the two most common reasons we grind our teeth — whether when we’re awake or asleep. People are also known to grind or clench their teeth in reaction to fear or anger, or if they have depression.
Unhealthy Daily Habits – Personal daily habits can also contribute to bruxism such as heavy consumption of alcohol and caffeine, or chronic smoking.
Sleep Conditions – If you have a sleep condition like snoring, sleep apnea, or moderate daytime sleepiness, you’re more likely to experience bruxism than those who don’t.
Genetics – If your family members also grind their teeth, you might experience it, too. Studies have shown that sleep bruxism has a genetic component and can be hereditary. As many as half of the people who experience grinding their teeth at night have a close family member who also suffers from this condition.
Misaligned Teeth – It might seem obvious but another cause for bruxism is your teeth themselves. Misaligned, crowded, or crooked teeth can make it hard for your upper and lower teeth to align with each other in a functional and proper bite. If you have misaligned teeth, you might subconsciously try to fit them comfortably, grinding them together when you’re asleep.
Side Effect of Medications – Lastly, teeth grinding and clenching can also be a medical side effect of certain mental health medications like fluoxetine, venlafaxine, and sertraline, as well as some recreational drugs.
Teeth Grinding In Children
Now if your child is grinding their teeth and not you, we want to assure you that it’s not uncommon. As stated earlier on, 15-33% of children have had bruxism at one time or another. Children who grind their teeth most often experience it when they’re gaining baby teeth or when adult teeth are coming in and it typically happens at night. Teeth grinding in children is also caused by:
- Improperly aligned teeth
- Irregular contact between the upper and lower teeth
- Illnesses or medical conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, pinworms, allergies, or endocrine disorders
- And like adults: stress or anxiety
Teeth grinding in baby teeth is typically not a cause for concern. However, children can experience the same symptoms that adults have as listed below. So if your child’s teeth look worn or your child complains of teeth pain or sensitivity, it’s best to bring them in to see us, your family-friendly dentist in Orange County as soon as possible.
Signs & Symptoms Of Teeth Grinding
For adults, it’s usually not too hard to realize you’re grinding or clenching our teeth. Perhaps your sleep partner can hear your teeth grinding, wakes up to the sound, and lets you know. But the most common symptom of teeth grinding is pain, which ranges from dull to disruptive. Specific signs and symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Jaw, neck or face pain or soreness
- Pain that feels like an earache but your ears are healthy
- Dull headache that start in the temples
- Sleep disruption
A look inside your mouth can also reveal signs of bruxism. The chewing surfaces of your teeth might be flattened, or some teeth might show fractures, chips, or feel loose. How about your tooth enamel? Does it look worn, uneven, or can you see deeper layers or the dentin underneath? And be sure to examine the inside of your cheeks; sometimes teeth grinding includes chewing the inside of your mouth, causing abrasions and sores.
Complications Of Teeth Grinding
Now that we’ve answered the question, “what is bruxism?”, you know what it is, what causes it, and you have a list of symptoms. Let’s now dive into what this issue could lead to in both adults and children.
It’s no surprise that teeth grinding can significantly impact your teeth and jaws — teeth grinding and clenching exerts an incredible force on teeth, your jawbone, jaw joints, and facial muscles. Teeth can become damaged with chips, fractures, and flattened chewing surfaces, all of which are both painful and can change your chewing and biting abilities. And if you have crowns, bridges, or fillings, these dental treatments can become damaged and you might have to get them repaired or redone.
Change In Your Facial Appearance
Not only do the function and appearance of your teeth suffer, but teeth grinding can also affect your facial appearance: in some instances, teeth grinding causes enlarged jaw muscles that change the shape of your jaw and face.
And the discomfort you’re feeling in your jaws? Bruxism can cause TMJ pain: pain in the temporomandibular joints, the joints that connect your jaw to your skull on either side of your face. Some experience TMJ pain as a mild ache or tenderness in their jaw joints, face, neck, and ears. Others have a clicking or popping in their jaw when opening and closing their mouth. Or sometimes there’s jaw muscle stiffness or limited range of movement in the jaw which can make it hard to chew or eat. You can also get arthritis in your jaw from teeth grinding.
Bruxism Treatment: How To Stop Grinding Teeth
As with any dental issue, the first step is to see your dentist as soon as possible. The quicker you address bruxism, the less damage can happen. When you come for a consultation at Shoreline Dental Studio, Dr. Ritzau, Dr. Livingston, or Dr. Saad will examine your teeth for teeth grinding symptoms — like the tooth damage discussed earlier in this post: excessive or uneven wear, cracks, or chips. You’ll also talk about any jaw pain or headaches you’ve been experiencing. And, of course, because misalignment can cause bruxism, we’ll look at the relationship between your teeth to make sure they’re moving optimally when you chew.
Well, good news or not-so-good news first? The not-so-good news is that there’s no treatment that a dentist or doctor can provide that completely eliminates teeth grinding and clenching. So instead of asking how to stop grinding your teeth, we look at how to reduce it and minimize its effects. The good news is that we at Shoreline Dental Studio offer a variety of ways to help — treatment with dental appliances as well as suggestions and support for managing symptoms.
Mouthguard – A carefully calibrated mouthpiece, or nightguard for teeth grinding, will stop symptoms of sleep bruxism and protect your enamel from further damage. Both upper or lower mouthguards exist but we typically suggest an upper mouthguard for teeth grinding. They come in soft rubber or hard plastic, or a combination of both. In any case, a teeth grinding guard from us at Shoreline Dental Studio is customized to perfectly match your teeth, making it as comfortable as possible.
Dental Splints – These appliances are often prescribed for the TMJ pain that can happen as a result of teeth grinding. A dental splint provides a barrier to lessen the impact of teeth clenching and grinding and relaxes the jaw joint so it can heal. It distributes pressure evenly across your teeth and helps reposition your jaw into proper alignment. At times, it’s used as a first step in aligning teeth with orthodontic treatment. There are a few different types of dental splints which your Orange County dentist can go over with you.
At-Home Symptom Relief – Managing the severity of your symptoms can go a long way in living with them day-to-day. A hot compress or ice pack held to your jaw can provide temporary pain relief, as can an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen.
Facial exercises help some people with tightness and pain in their jaw, face, and neck muscles. And facial relaxation or massaging the head and neck can further reduce tension. Ask us or your doctor for specific exercises you can try.
We also recommend avoiding gum and hard foods to reduce painful jaw movements. Or if you have a habit of chewing on pencils or pens, focus on moving away from doing so. You can also try training yourself not to grind your teeth if you’re prone to daytime teeth grinding. When you catch yourself grinding your teeth, stop and place the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This trains your jaw muscles to relax.
Suggestions for Lifestyle Changes – If stress or anxiety is causing your bruxism, we can suggest a few ways to try reducing or coping with your stressors. Counselling, exercise, or seeing a physical therapist are a few changes you can make. You can also see your doctor about muscle relaxants or other medical options.
It may also help to cut down on or eliminate caffeine and alcohol. The caffeine in cola, coffee, and even chocolate can contribute to teeth grinding, and bruxism is known to intensify after alcohol consumption.
Treating Your Bruxism In Orange County
At Shoreline Dental Studio, we go above and beyond for our patients. They’re like family, and we want the best not only for their teeth but for their overall wellbeing, too. We understand how teeth grinding can affect your quality of life so we want to help.
Contact us today for a consultation at our San Clemente or Mission Viejo office, whichever is most convenient for you. Our locations are relaxing, comfortable, and welcoming — just what you need when you or someone in your family is experiencing bruxism and needs compassionate, expert treatment and relief.