One in 10 people are expected to grind their teeth as they sleep, and most of them are unaware that they’re even doing it. Also known as bruxism, grinding teeth can lead to a number of concerns, such as tooth damage, poor sleep, and jaw pain. On top of this, bruxism can also be a sign of an even more serious problem like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Because many people who grind their teeth at night don’t receive proper treatment, they could be dealing with daily pain and additional issues without realizing that they have access to treatment that can help. You may think that bruxism isn’t a big deal, but the truth is that it could be a sign that your health is at risk.
So, how do you know if you’re struggling with bruxism if it often occurs when you’re asleep? And why does it even matter if you grind your teeth? Let’s dive into everything you need to know about bruxism, including exactly what it is, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and why it matters.
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism occurs when you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth. This could happen during the day or throughout the night as you sleep. While it can be hard to spot, and signs and symptoms can vary, many people with bruxism experience the following:
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Worn teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Facial pain
- Tense jaw muscles
- Locking or dislocation of the jaw
- Popping or clicking in the TMJ (temporomandibular joint)
- Indentations along the tongue
- Damage to the inside of the cheek
If you notice any of these signs, reach out to your dentist. They will be able to help you get the treatment you need, address your bruxism, and look for any underlying conditions that could be causing it.
What Causes Bruxism?
We live in a stressful world. Juggling a job, family, home, and a mix of other commitments can be overwhelming for anybody, although some people are hit particularly hard by everyday stress. This can result in a number of conditions, such as migraines and bruxism. Bruxism is most often caused by stress and is usually seen in individuals with certain personality types. For example, many people who grind their teeth also experience nervous tension, anger, frustration, anxiety, or pain. Along those lines, it also affects those who are aggressive or overly competitive. While doctors aren’t sure of all the causes of bruxism, it is likely a combination of physical, genetic, and psychological factors.
Additionally, grinding your teeth is associated with a few risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing bruxism, including the following:
- Age: It is most common in young children; usually, it goes away by the end of childhood.
- Stress: Increased stress or anxiety can cause you to clench your teeth and set your jaw.
- Medications: Bruxism could be a side effect of some medications, including certain antidepressants. Similarly, smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks, or using recreational drugs can increase your risk.
- Genetic history: If you have bruxism, others in your family are also likely to have it. It tends to occur in families.
- Underlying conditions: Bruxism is associated with a few mental and physical disorders, including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, ADHD, epilepsy, and reflux.
These risks do not guarantee the development of bruxism, and there are things you can do to prevent yourself from grinding your teeth, such as using a mouthguard, treating underlying conditions, and addressing your stress levels.
Why Does Bruxism Matter?
If left untreated, bruxism can lead to permanent damage. Some people can grind their teeth until their teeth are worn completely flat. Enamel can become so damaged that it needs to be protected with a crown. Teeth grinding can even lead to chronic pain, tooth fracture, headaches, and TMJ syndrome—a disorder in which problems of the jaw and joints can inhibit chewing, restrict motion, and cause a clicking noise.
Most importantly, bruxism can disrupt both your and your partner’s sleep. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem that can affect every part of your body, leading to an increased risk of car accidents, worsened mental health, and serious health problems. Poor sleep is associated with a variety of conditions, including the following:
- Heart disease
- Chronic pain
If you’re worried you aren’t sleeping well at night and often feel excessively tired throughout the day—even after sleeping seven or eight hours—it’s essential that you speak to a dentist. Getting the sleep you need is the first step to ensuring that you can lead a happy and healthy life.
What Treatment Plans Are Available?
If your dentist suspects that you have bruxism, they will first evaluate the extent of the affliction. They may check for tenderness in your jaw, obvious dental abnormalities, and other damage to your teeth and the underlying bone structure. They will also likely screen you for obstructive sleep apnea if you show any signs of an underlying sleep disorder. If your bruxism seems to be related to a major sleep issue, you will be recommended to a sleep medicine specialist who can help you get treatment for any underlying conditions causing the teeth grinding.
In some cases, treatment won’t be necessary. However, in a severe case, courses of action include therapies, medications, and certain dental approaches. Some examples of possible treatment options include the following:
- Mouth guards
- Dental correction
- Anxiety management
- Muscle relaxants
- Botox injections
- Sleep-related disorder treatment like oral appliance therapy (OAT) or CPAP
- Lifestyle changes
Your dentist will be able to recommend the best treatment option for you based on your lifestyle and the severity of your bruxism.
If you’re worried that you could be struggling with bruxism, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical provider. Every day you continue to grind your teeth, the more likely you are to cause serious, permanent damage to your teeth. Plus, you won’t be able to get the deep, quality sleep you need to function well every day.