It’s common for people to grind their teeth when they’re frustrated or angry or stressed. But 5% of the population suffer from bruxism: involuntary, forceful, and habitual teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Generally bruxism occurs during sleep (a.k.a. nocturnal bruxism), therefore, the sufferer usually isn’t aware of it unless their loved one brings it to their attention. However, bruxism can also be experienced while a person is awake and may be worsened in times of high stress or anxiety.
What are the Signs?
Symptoms of bruxism include the following:
- Grinding sounds (during sleep or even in wakefulness)
- General teeth ache (especially after waking up)
- Sensitive teeth (to hot and cold foods and drinks)
- Teeth excessively worn down
- Tooth decay
- Cracked, chipped, or fractured tooth enamel and fillings (when bruxism gets extreme)
- Loose teeth (when bruxism gets extreme)
- Strain and pain in the TMJ (temporomandibular joint, a.k.a. the jaw joint)
- Limited movement/opening of TMJ and jaws
- Aching/stiffness in jaws while chewing (especially during breakfast)
- Pain in the ears
- Aching/stiffness of the face and temples (again, just after waking up)
- Habitual jaw clenching when experiencing anger, anxiety, or even just concentration
- Tooth indentations on the tongue (as a sign of tongue chewing)
- Swollen/inflamed cheek soft tissue (as a result of biting)
- Periodontal tissue damage
- Tooth loss (this is very rare)
Why is This Happening?
Bruxism has a wide variety of different causes and your dentist will be able to provide the most accurate diagnosis for your situation. There can be factors that are biological (e.g. an abnormal bite or overbite, missing/crooked teeth, snoring), genetic (you have a 30% chance of being a teeth grinder if someone in your family also grinds their teeth), and psychological (e.g. a sleeping disorder like sleep apnoea, extreme exhaustion) which contribute to bruxism which you cannot necessarily help.
But external factors such as ingesting caffeine or alcohol, smoking, and/or using particular types of drugs can also contribute to teeth grinding and these harmful habits are within your control to stop. Your dentist and healthcare professional will be the best person to advise you on any appropriate steps you need to take.
There has also been new evidence to show that bruxism experienced at night may be caused by blockages of the airway. When you sleep, your brain experiences cycles of deep and light sleep. As it approaches deep sleep, all your muscles (including your jaw and tongue) fully relax. But a fully relaxed jaw is heavy and a fully relaxed tongue expands to almost twice its normal size; both of these can block your airway.
A study was conducted where researchers gave teeth grinders an appliance that would keep their airways open all night, and as a result, their bruxism stopped. This showed that their nocturnal bruxism was to keep their airways unobstructed while they slept.
This explanation is consistent for people who experience sleep apnoea and nocturnal bruxism and shows it is not healthy. Sleep is needed for the release of HGH (human growth hormone), improving memory, building muscle, burning fat, tightening skin, reversing the aging process, even possibly warding off diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep apnoea, if left untreated, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, mental illness, and weight gain. The quality of sleep is critical, not merely the quantity of sleep.
Why is This Happening to Kids?
Bruxism is common among children (up to a fifth of the population) but most generally outgrow this habit by their adolescence. The peak times for children to grind their teeth would be when their baby teeth emerge and then again when their adult teeth emerge.
There hasn’t been any definitive explanation as to why kids grind their teeth, but likely explanations include malocclusion (i.e. poorly aligned teeth), irregular contact between the upper and lower teeth, illnesses/medical conditions (such as nutritional deficiencies or allergies), and psychological factors (like anxiety).
It is unlikely that any dental treatment is needed (as kids’ teeth and jaw structures change so rapidly) but if you are concerned about your child’s teeth grinding, consult your local dentist.
Join us in our next blog to find out what you can do about your own or your loved ones’ teeth grinding.