At our dental practice, we frequently see problems resulting from grinding of teeth, or bruxism. In normal development, children grind their teeth as their baby teeth are first coming into the mouth and then again as the adult teeth are replacing the baby teeth. This helps the teeth break through the gums, and it aligns the upper and lower teeth. Ideally, as we grow older, we stop grinding our teeth. However, for many of us, grinding continues into our adulthood.
Long term and frequent grinding can lead to a myriad of problems. You may notice some of these problems, like soreness of the muscles surrounding your jaw and temples, excessive sensitivity to cold food or drinks, or a dull constant headache, especially upon waking. Because most grinding is done in your sleep you may not even realize that you do it. Other symptoms of grinding are more easily recognized by your dentist. Your dentist may find excessive wear on the chewing surfaces, broken crowns or fillings or fractured teeth, bone loss, and grooves that form at the gumline called abfraction lesions. With long-term grinding, patients may need extensive and expensive dental treatment including root canals, crowns, bridges, implants, or even dentures.
Although there is not much we can do the stop the grinding itself, we can take certain steps to ensure that grinding does not damage the teeth. Most grinding occurs while we are asleep, so patients who grind their teeth are frequently prescribed a night guard, also called an occlusal guard. By placing a layer of plastic between the teeth, the grinding that occurs will wear down the plastic instead of the teeth. In addition, by opening the mouth a little, the night guard takes pressure off of the jaw joints and muscles, relieving jaw pain and muscle pain. As a side benefit, a majority of our patients who use night guards report that they sleep much better.
Some patients will catch themselves clenching or grinding their teeth during the day. Although we can make day guards to relieve daytime grinding, it is often simpler to ask patients to become aware of their daytime grinding. Patients who grind their teeth frequently are shocked when we tell them that their teeth should only be touching when they are eating.
If you suspect that grinding might be a problem for you, do yourself a favor and get in to see your dentist. A simple fix may save both your teeth and your pocketbook.