What Is Teeth Grinding?

Nearly one in ten people grind their teeth, and most don't even realize they do it. Teeth grinding can be very harmful to our health, and can indicate other health problems, even psychological. In this article we will discuss how to find out if you grind your teeth in sleep and why it's a problem you shouldn't ignore. 

You might be one of the people, who keeps handing over thousands of dollars to the dentists, not knowing why your teeth keep cracking and fillings disintergrate so often. If your dentist told you that you might be grinding your teeth at night, he or she might be on to something. It's hard to catch, because many people don't exhibit the obvious symptoms, like having sore jaw in the morning, headaches. In fact, most people exhibit symptoms that are more subtle, but no less problematic to their long term wellbeing. 

 

The next logical step south be to get fitted for a night guard. To most people, the thought of wearing a piece of acrylic in their mouth while sleeping is quite off-putting. Our goals here, is to shed some light on this health problem and possibly help some of you do something about it. 

Sleep Bruxism

The formal name for teeth grinding is bruxism. This strange word was coined back in early  1900's by Marie Pietkiewicz who referred to compulsive grinding of teeth as ‘la bruxomanie.’ Later, the term “bruxism” was adopted to describe the unconscious grinding of teeth. Bruxism belongs to the category of behaviors that are called “parafunctional”, like tooth tapping, biting cheeks and lips, biting fingernails, and tongue thrusting. 

 

There are two forms of teeth grinding: sleep bruxism and wake-time bruxism. Although the two forms are not mutually exclusive, they are two distinct disorders. But today we are going to focus on sleep bruxism, and this one is harder to identify and control.

Sleep bruxism is a rhythmic, repetitive, and involuntary activity of the muscles of the jaw, which happen during sleep. Bruxism creates forceful contact between the biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth and often can produce some unpleasant sounds (you can listen to the sound here). There is also clenching, which is sustained and forceful tooth contact without any sideways jaw movements. On average, people who grind their teeth do so at least two to four times per hour of sleep. When grinding reaches this level of frequency, it gets diagnosed as a sleep disorder. Surprisingly, 60% of the population exhibits a mild chewing-like activity during sleep, but it's not classified as sleep bruxism—it’s actually a psychological sleep related movement. 

 

Every dentist knows, that bruxism is a nightmare to deal with, because any beautiful restorative work can be rapidly destroyed by teeth grinding. 

 

In most cases, sleep bruxism is “just” teeth grinding during sleep.However, it's worth to note, that it can  be a symptom of other disorders, which require further diagnosis and treatment. To name some of these: obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, restless leg syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), sleep-related epilepsy, autism, and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Why We Grind Our Teeth

To this day, doctors can not pinpoint the direct cause of sleep bruxism. 

It is very likely, that psychological factors play an important role, but these findings are inconclusive. Some doctors believe, that people who grind their teeth tend to be more sensitive to stress and anxiety. 

 

One thing we know so far, is that bruxism is centrally regulated, meaning that it’s a sleep disturbance that originates in the central nervous system, and it’s not triggered or controlled by peripheral factors in the mouth, like a blockage of some sort, or tooth contacts. We also know it’s not caused by an infectious disease, which is what people used to think, nor is it a tic or reaction triggered by improperly fixed dental prostheses. 

 

Sleep bruxism occurs in almost 10% of general population. Children and adolescents seem to be affected more often (up to 40% of 11 year-olds experience teeth grinding). Elderly population seems to be less affected, down to 3% but this statistics is not conclusive, because elders might be missing teeth or have no partners to report tooth grinding sound.

 

Symptoms related to bruxism can fluctuate over time, for example, a person can grinds their teeth with higher frequency in some periods of life, and grind less in others.

Sleep bruxism occurs in almost 10% of general population. Children and adolescents seem to be affected more often (up to 40% of 11 year-olds experience teeth grinding).

Symptoms related to bruxism can fluctuate over time, for example, a person can grinds their teeth with higher frequency in some periods of life, and grind less in others.

Signs You Are a Grinder

The signs and symptoms of teeth grinding are not always obvious.

 

Abnormal teeth wear, sore jaw muscles, morning headaches, overtrained jaw muscles all point to sleep bruxism. Bruxism can also lead to TMJ syndrome, damage in temporomandibular joints, which causes pain when opening/closing the mouth or chewing.

(Severe teeth wear as a result of untreated sleep bruxism)

The signs don't stop here. Some other indications are: neck pain, earache, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, inflammation of some salivary glands, periodical swelling and  inflammation, and lastly, abnormal dryness of the mouth. 

 

Not all of these symptoms are always present or even noticeable. Some people can be perfectly asymptomatic despite their intense grinding activity during sleep.

 

A common misconception is that the degree of teeth wear is directly related to the intensity/frequency of tooth grinding. But teeth wear is dependent on quality of enamel, saliva, acid intake, and the presence of gastro-esophageal reflux.

 

If you suspect that you might grind your teeth at night, talk to us. Our dentist will check your for wear and examine your temporomandibular joints and jaw muscles for signs of bruxism.

 

Unfortunately, there is no one simple cure to stop someone from grinding. There are, however, some treatment options to reduce the side effects of bruxism and save your teeth in the long run. Because if bruxism is left untreated, it can result in a number of problems. First of all, if teeth are suffering and wearing out, grinding can destroy enamel, crowns, fillings and prostheses. Over time, teeth may loosen. Jaw pain can become chronic and more difficult to manage over time.

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