Are you a grinder? You may be, and not even know it!

Andra Mahoney, BS RDH

Are you a grinder? You may be, and not even know it!

Do you ever wake up in the morning with sore teeth and jaws?  You could be grinding your teeth.  Teeth grinding is usually done unconsciously in your sleep, but it can also occur when you are awake.  It is common to find people that clench or grind their teeth occasionally throughout their lives.  However, chronic clenching and grinding can cause long term damage and problems with your teeth and mouth in general.

Why do people grind their teeth?

Although teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, it is more likely caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth (malocclusion/malalignment). It can also be caused by a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea.

How can you tell if you grind?

Because grinding often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth.  Here are some common signs that you may be a grinder:

  • Wake up with Headache/Sore Jaw or teeth
  • Significant Other hears you grind in your sleep
  • You notice flattening of your teeth
  • Broken teeth/fillings
  • Increase in teeth sensitiviy

A dental professional, like your Dentist or Dental Hygienist, will be able to tell the last three, as well.  If they haven’t mentioned it to you already, feel free to ask if this is something that may effect you.

Why is it harmful to grind?

Most people clench or grind at night.  When you are asleep, so is the function that regulates the jaw’s power.  In the day time, your brain puts limitations on how hard you can bite or clench.  When you are asleep, so is this part of your brain.  That means you are biting way harder than you are able to while you are awake.  Those that clench or grind while they are awake, are usually doing it subconsciously.  Usually when they are extremely focused or concentrating on something else.

The biggest concern with clenching or grinding is the wear on your teeth.  Once you have worn through the enamel, the hard outer structure of your tooth, the wear will increase!  The dentin, the inner structure of your tooth, is not as strong as enamel and will wear a lot faster.  This will result in wearing your teeth down to stumps.  If the wear gets to this point, and no preventative treatment has happened, it can be a very long and expensive problem to fix.  Your Dentist can talk to you about crowns and other treatment to restore the height and function of your teeth.

Another concern would be breaking teeth or fracturing your natural teeth or restorations, such as fillings, and crowns.  We want to prevent fracturing so that the tooth does not break in a non-restorable way.

As we get older, we will wear on our jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, TMJ), that is a natural process.  However, when we are constantly and continually clenching or grinding, that will accelerate the wear.  The faster the wear, the increase of problems that can occur: jaw pain, clicking, popping, jaw deviation, or locking open/closed.

What can you do about it?

If you are having these symptoms and concerns, schedule an appointment to visit your Dentist.  They can confirm if this is the case.  If so there are options.

If you are clenching or grinding your teeth due to malalignment, the Doctor may recommend Invisalign or traditional orthodontics.  Putting the teeth in their proper spot will help the jaw align properly as well.  It will also prevent fractures or breaks since the teeth will be biting on even surface instead of placing  constant and uneven force on the teeth.

A mouthguard, also know as night guard, is a great help.  A nightguard is a thick, hard material that does not allow your jaw to clench all the way together.  This will prevent advanced wear of your TMJ.  Also, clenching or grinding will occur on the guard, instead of your teeth, thus saving your natural and restored tooth structure.

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