Grinding Your Teeth? What It Means and How to Stop
Your significant other thinks there's a beaver sleeping in your bed. What is that noise!
You suddenly notice that your jaw muscles hurt. You broke a filling last week. What's happening?
Well, there's a good chance you might be grinding your teeth. Your dentist calls it bruxism.
If you are "gnashing” your teeth, it's in your best interest to check it out. Grinding your teeth can cause all kinds of problems not only in your sleep or possibly your love life, but also other more serious difficulties with your overall dental and emotional health.
What does grinding your teeth mean?
One Oxford English Dictionary definition of grinding is "rubbing together gratingly". Think about a grain mill or a grinding stone. Another definition is "crushing by friction". Imagine a mortar and pestle. Get the picture?
This very same "wearing away" action happens with your teeth. A big difference, however, is that the enamel on your teeth is the hardest substance in your body so it takes longer to grind down.
Everyone grinds down their teeth somewhat over a lifetime from normal use. The problem arises when something goes awry and your mouth becomes a biological grinding mill, but instead of grain, the enamel starts being ground away at an abnormal rate. Bruxism!
There are many symptoms of teeth grinding:
- Clenching your teeth along with noisy grinding.
- Sore jaw or face muscles.
- Chipped, flattened, or fractured teeth.
- The chewing surface of your teeth look yellow because the enamel has been completely ground away, exposing the softer, yellow layer called dentin.
- Feels like you have an ear ache, but you really don't have any issues with your ears.
- Soreness or ulcers from chewing on the inside of your cheek.
- Teeth are more sensitive to cold, hot, or sweet foods.
- Headache in your temples
- Tooth marks on your tongue.
- Jaw joint pain (Frequently called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain).
- It may even be another factor causing dental decay.
Causes of Bruxism
Many of the causes of bruxism are now believed to be related to other factors besides the teeth. Many dental experts believe that grinding of the teeth is caused by a poor "bite" or misalignment of the jaw joint. In other words, your upper and lower teeth do not come together correctly when you chew and talk. A smaller number of dental authorities believe that recent research does not support that conclusion.
The jury is still out on the teeth causing the grinding, so you may very likely have a dentist suggest treatments (including braces) for you that address the dental basis for bruxism.
Today, besides the theory connecting the teeth to the cause the problem, most experts in the area of bruxism attribute teeth grinding to other factors:
1. Sleep Disorders: Studies have shown that disturbances in sleep are a factor in bruxism. It has been shown that Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) makes a person randomly wake up at night gasping for breath. During these episodes, the brain is in a heightened arousal state that causes teeth grinding. Various other sleep disorders have been found to significantly contribute to bruxism in a similar fashion.
2. Lifestyle: Experts now increasingly believe that lifestyle factors play a part in teeth grinding. Findings show that smoking, caffeine intake, and heavy drinking contribute to it. The psychoactive substances found in these substances contribute to increased brain arousal. This arousal in turn leads to problems in falling and staying asleep.
3. Stress: There is no doubt that stress, depression, and anxiety are major contributors to bruxism. Studies have shown that these psychological problems (which also coincidently often cause sleep disorders), amount to 70% of the total factors thought to cause teeth grinding.
4. Physical ailments: Stress, anxiety, and depression are often a significant part of a physical ailment because they share the same causal elements as psychological factors. Thus, treating your physical illness may also reduce bruxism caused by stress.
Stop grinding your teeth, there's the rub. Let's take a look at the causes and see if we can get our answers there.
- Some people have success addressing stress with self-hypnosis.
- Dentists can adjust your bite and make you a night guard similar to sport guards.
- Get a sleep study. This is the only reliable way to determine if you have sleep disorder.
- Quit smoking, reach for the decaffeinated coffee, and just have that one Fosters.
- Talk to a counselor if you are really stressed out, anxious, or depressed. Help your teeth; help your psyche at the same time.
- Stay healthy. Nip those illnesses in the bud. Serious illness; see a counselor.
Your teeth are more important than you think! See our other informative topics at Dental Guide Australia