Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is more common than you might think, experts say. And, while a sore jaw or teeth might give you an idea that you’re grinding your teeth, many people are surprised when they’re told about it, said Jona Trottier, an oral health specialist.

The problem is, by the time a dentist tells you you’re grinding your teeth, the damage may have already been done. “Bruxing takes an enormous toll on teeth,” Trottier said.

Here’s what you need to know about bruxism and how to deal with it.

What Causes Teeth Grinding

Trottier said it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what might be causing your bruxism, but that there are several common culprits. Stress and anxiety can be a major factor—there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that college students have a higher incidence of grinding their teeth during finals, she said. Some medications as well as alcohol and caffeine use can also play a part. And having a bad bite or sleep apnea can also prompt grinding.

People who are told they grind their teeth at night usually deny it, simply because they’re asleep when it happens. Your sleep partner may tell you that you’re grinding once in a while, or there are some symptoms that may indicate you’re grinding your teeth at night, Trottier said. They include:

  • Pain or tightness in the jaw.
  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Difficulty opening your mouth or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) inflammation.
  • Headaches in the morning.
  • Teeth sensitivity, or pain or discomfort when chewing.
  • Noticeable wear or chipping of the teeth.

Why Teeth Grinding Is Bad

Grinding your teeth shifts and fractures them, and wears away the enamel, Trottier said. It also can make your gums recede. At the junction where the tooth enamel ends and the root starts, the tooth is made of cementum, which is not as hard as enamel. “The grinding puts pressure on the tooth, rocking it and, because the tooth is of crystalline structure, it causes weakness, almost flaking off,” she said. This makes the tooth more vulnerable to other issues.

Cracks in your teeth can lead to your needing a root canal or crown, or require a tooth’s removal. In addition, grinding can compromise any implants you have already.

“I know a prosthodontist who requires each of his patients with implants or major restorative cases to have an occlusal night guard (a removable acrylic appliance intended to relieve temporomandibular joint pain and other effects of grinding the teeth) made,” she said.

What Your Dentist Can Do to Help

Find a dentist who has experience working with bruxism to get the best treatment. Night guards can help protect your teeth and jaw from grinding, and are becoming much more popular, Trottier said. Custom night guards made by a dentist aren’t always covered by insurance, but over-the-counter options are also available, have become more comfortable to use and may save you money, too.

In the meantime, stress-reduction techniques, breathing machines to help with sleep apnea and reducing your use of alcohol and caffeine may help reduce the triggers that make you grind your teeth at night.


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