I grind my teeth at night - should I be worried?

Abnormal tooth grinding and clenching is called bruxism. There are many theories as to why people grind their teeth but even the experts aren’t so sure yet. It has been associated with stress and anxiety but there is also a school of thought that it is a mechanism used in childhood to help loosen baby/milk teeth that grownups haven’t grown out of!

Unfortunately, unless your grinding is very occasional, it probably is a problem if left untreated. Here’s why.

Teeth don’t spend a lot of time contacting each other. When you are relaxed and not eating or speaking, your teeth should naturally fall into a position where your lips are closed but your teeth are a few millimetres apart. (We call this the freeway space) Even when we eat, teeth spend most of the time contacting food rather than each other. When teeth start to touch each other, you are usually ready to swallow because you have already broken down the food adequately enough. This means that naturally, teeth don’t wear down very quickly. This is a good thing as we start to get our permanent teeth at age 6 and these teeth need to last our entire life!

If you are grinding your teeth,(especially at night when its uncontrolled) this can very quickly lead to tooth wear that becomes very difficult to fix without costly and complicated dental treatment. Not only this, you are also likely to break or split teeth and fillings which can be painful and difficult to treat. Sometimes badly split teeth can’t be fixed and have to be extracted. Grinding can also lead to gum recession and loss of tooth structure at the gum line (abfraction) which leads to sensitivity and can increase the chance of decay.

Another major issue with grinding is that it is closely associated with TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) or pain and problems with function of the jaw and muscles of the face. Some common symptoms include, migraines, headaches, clicking jaw, locking jaw, clunking sounds in the jaw and pain or stiffness of the jaw/neck/face muscles.

Night time grinding is difficult to treat as it is happening when we can’t control it. There are various treatment options which include:

– thorough assessment of the jaw and its function as well as symptoms

– slight adjustments of fillings and interfering teeth

– physiotherapy and non surgical advice on jaw management/stress management

– various types of splints (mouth guards) to protect teeth and relax muscles worn during sleep

– X-rays and other imaging to assess the shape and health of jaw joints and muscles

– incorporating the opinion of oral medicine specialists

- rarely you may require surgical intervention if there is pathology of the jaw.

At routine checkups, dentists will check for signs of bruxism, but if you think you may be clenching or grinding your teeth (during the day or at night time) be sure to mention this at your next visit to ensure prevention and early intervention of potential problems.

I hope this post has been helpful 

Here’s to a stress free week!

Dr Jess BDSc (The University of Melbourne.) (Honours.)

Oak Tree Ballarat Dental