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Why We Grind Our Teeth and What to Do About It

Dr. Alex Quintner

Involuntary clenching or grinding of the teeth, or bruxism, is a common condition that has many negative effects on teeth and jaws. As it is involuntary, it is difficult to control this behavior, and often best to focus on minimizing the future dental damage.

Why do some people grind their teeth?

Studies show that up to 8% of the population suffer from bruxism, with females being the more frequent sufferers.  Bruxism is a result of three primary issues: 1) Nighttime changes in depth of sleep, 2) Daytime stressors and anxiety, and 3) Mis-alignment of the bite.

Night Grinding

Sleep bruxism is the most common bruxism presented. As the body goes through the various levels of sleep, unconscious movements occur including the grinding of teeth. Though night grinding was previously considered a dental matter, this form of sleep bruxism has been reclassified as part of a full body sleep response, alongside change in heartrate, respiratory changes, and increased muscle activity. Studies have shown that 86% of nighttime bruxism activity also includes involuntary leg movements, further illustrating that this grinding motion is part of a full body response in sleep.

Stress Clenching

Some patients exhibit bruxism as a side effect of stress and anxiety. Though this form of clenching and grinding is more commonly linked to daytime activity, it is shown that individuals who report higher level of stress and anxiety are much more likely to suffer from bruxism, even the night version because of more restless sleep patterns.

Mis-Aligned Bite

The least common, but still notable version of bruxism is caused by poor bite alignment. If the teeth are not correctly balanced and the bite is uneven, this can cause patients to involuntarily interact with their teeth and jaw through clenching and grinding. Unfortunately, bruxism can also cause uneven bite and many dental issues, so those who suffer from night grinding or stress clenching can also find themselves furthering the damage.

How do you know you have Bruxism?

Most patients who have bruxism show excessive wear on their teeth, unrelated to dental hygiene practices. They can have jaw pain, stress fractures in the teeth, worn molar enamel, and continued breakage of any dental work. Bruxism makes you more prone to cavities, and the need for root canals, crowns, TMJ, and even implants. Those who grind their teeth also complain of frequent headaches as well as damage from chewing on the inside of the cheek.

Is there a solution?

Though the causes vary, the best solution for bruxism is to minimize damage with a nightguard while addressing any underlining stress or anxiety that may be exacerbating the situation.

Custom nightguards are created simply by taking a mold or scan of the mouth, which can be sent to a dental lab.  On a return appointment, the nightguard is fitted and further customized to achieve the optimal fit to the patient’s unique mouth.

There are over-the-counter options available, but they pose risks.  Because they lack customized fit, they often do not work correctly and can make the problem worse as the body reacts to the nightguard as if it were a misaligned bite, increasing the problem.

In addition, stress-reducing habits, such as exercise, massage, counseling, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and yoga are recommended.

If you’d like to talk to one of our highly qualified dentists about your issues with bruxism, please give us a call. We can assess the severity of the situation and work with you to minimize any future damage. Call today 203-951-5540.