So you grind your teeth, no big deal, right? Actually, wrong – grinding your teeth can cause some serious damage. Even if you think your case is mild.
So what exactly is happening when you’re grinding or clenching your teeth?
Teeth grinding, even when mild, has the power to wear down your enamel. This protective coating on your teeth protects them from decay, bacteria, and sensitivity.
When it’s frequent and severe, it can do more damage than just wearing down enamel. It’s a constant strain on your jaw muscles and can cause a condition known as TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder. This condition causes pain and tightness in the joints around your jaw. In extreme cases it can cause earaches or headaches.
Many factors can cause teeth grinding. One of the most common causes is stress. Sometimes the emotions caused by stress, like anxiety, anger, or frustration are the direct cause of you grinding your teeth. Other times, grinding your teeth is done unconsciously as a coping or focusing habit.
As stress is one of the main causes of teeth grinding, this condition can develop later in your life, even if you never used to grind your teeth.
Certain substances act as stressors, like caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol use.
Since teeth grinding commonly occurs while you are sleeping, other sleep issues like sleep apnea may be a stressor.
Another cause, although less common, is a side effect from medication or a complication from other diseases.
Children actually experience teeth grinding more commonly than adults, however the causes differ in children from adults. Often, children do it because it relieves the pain of earaches or teething. Other times, it has to do with jaw development. More often than not, children outgrow this habit and more often than not, it is not caused by stress.
As stress is a big cause of teeth grinding, stress management is one of the best treatments for this issue. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting out of the habit of clenching your teeth, which can be achieved through various types of therapy.
Medications that just treat teeth grinding are usually not that effective, as teeth grinding is often a side effect of a bigger issue. You should talk to your dentist to find out if these are right for you.
Most often, there are simpler solutions. One of these is using a mouth guard at night that prevents your teeth from becoming damaged and your muscles from tensing as much. Your dentist can fit a mouth guard in order to protect your teeth.
Other solutions include changing your lifestyle to reduce stress. This could also include getting into the habit of sleeping well or avoiding stimulants like caffeine that are known to exacerbate teeth grinding issues.
Your dentist can help you relieve the issues caused by teeth grinding, like tooth sensitivity, providing TMJ therapy, or reshape damaged teeth with a variety of cosmetic procedures.