It is estimated that approximately 20% of the population grind their teeth without even knowing it, a phenomenon called bruxism. Most of these cases are at night, but some people may grind or clench their teeth during the day. Current research points at daily stress, anxiety, and tension as the biggest culprits of bruxism. Other causes can be due to medications, misalignment of teeth or even airway obstruction.
What are the Effects of Bruxism?
Teeth are obviously built to withstand a certain amount of force, otherwise we would not be able to enjoy biting into a fresh apple or chewing on a juicy burger. We have a built-in protective cover on our teeth called enamel that counterbalances daily stresses on teeth from eating. However, when we place constant hard tension on our teeth from habits other than eating, our teeth begin to wear and weaken. With enough wear from continuous grinding day after day it is possible to expose a layer of tooth just beneath enamel, called dentin. This exposure not only creates sensitivity to heat and cold, but also makes teeth more prone to acquiring cavities. Other, maybe not so obvious and definitely not all-inclusive effects of bruxism are listed below.
- Harder clenching and grinding may lead to micro-cracks in teeth and broken fillings. Broken fillings that are placed deeper can lead to permanent nerve damage and eventual tooth loss.
- Excess pressure on gums from bruxism leads to gingival recession, where gums move away from teeth. Without care, this can lead to bone loss and tooth mobility.
- Additionally, clenching and grinding overuses jaw muscles and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) resulting in headaches, neck aches, ear aches and other facial pain.
While there is no cure, there are several options available to help manage symptoms. Depending on the exact cause of bruxism, a nightguard or bite plate are very useful to prevent damage and excess pressure directly on teeth when grinding or clenching. Other oral appliances can help with airway obstruction to minimize clenching. If misalignment of teeth is an issue, orthodontics may be the best option. Consult your dentist for an evaluation if you expect you may be grinding to come up with a plan that works best for you.
Giraki, M; Schneider, C; Schäfer, R; Singh, P; Franz, M; Raab, WH; Ommerborn, MA. Correlation between stress, stress-coping and current sleep bruxism. Head & Face Medicine. Department of Operative and Preventive Dentistry and Endodontics, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Moorenstr 5, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany. 6:2, 2010.
Pingitore, G; Chrobak, V; Petrie, J. The social and psychologic factors of bruxism. The Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry. Department of Psychology, Loyola University, Chicago, Ill. 65(3):433-446, 1991.
Rugh, JD; Harlan, J. Nocturnal bruxism and temporomandibular disorders. Advances in Neurology. Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX. 49:329-341, 1988.