Tooth grinding is one of those things that we tend to recognize in others, but not in ourselves. In fact, many people are completely unaware that they may grind or clench their teeth, both in the waking hours and when we are asleep. According to the American Sleep Association, surveys indicate that about 15 percent of all children in the United States grind their teeth while asleep; about 10% of adults do too. Tooth grinding may not seem like a big deal, but the truth is that such practices can create severe damage to our teeth over time. In this article, we’ll talk about the phenomenon of tooth grinding and provide tips on what people can do to manage this potentially damaging situation.
What is Tooth Grinding?
Tooth grinding and chronic clenching of the jaw, called bruxism by dentists, is a habit that plagues thousands of adults and children in the U.S. It is unclear what the specific cause of bruxism is, and in fact may be the result of several factors like stress, misalignment of the teeth and jaws, anxiety, or disturbances during the sleep cycle.
Left unaddressed, bruxism can lead to severe oral problems, including:
- Chipped or broken teeth
- Worn enamel, the protective layer that covers our teeth
- An increase in the chance of dental cavities due to worn or broken areas of the teeth that may allow bacteria to penetrate below the surface
- Pain in the jaw muscles and connective tissues of the face
- Joint disorders, particularly in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects the lower jaw to the skull
- Loss of mobility of the jaw, including a condition where the jaw locks in an open or closed position
Family dentists can identify the condition and recommend treatment steps, but severe cases may need the assistance of a specialized dental professional with training in TMJ disorders.
How Can I Manage Tooth Grinding?
If you find yourself grinding or clenching your teeth, or you have noticed a family member doing the same in his or her sleep, getting help from a dental professional is the first step. Luckily, there are a number of ways one can manage this condition, stopping the grinding before it can do serious damage to the teeth. Methods for managing bruxism range from simple, at-home techniques to more specialized treatments under the care of a dentist. Methods include:
- Taking a magnesium supplement: several studies have pinpointed the mineral magnesium as a component of mood regulation and relaxation. Because some bruxism is caused by stress, a magnesium supplement or a diet high in magnesium-rich foods like bananas, avocados, and spinach can help reduce the stress and anxiety that leads to chronic tooth grinding.
- Managing stress: whether you practice yoga, listen to calming music, or seek the help of a therapist, reducing stress can improve the outcome in chronic bruxism patients. Find something that helps to calm and relax your mind and you’re well on your way to beating tooth grinding.
- Dental treatments: in some cases, a dentist will recommend a soft mouth guard to be worn over the teeth. The mouth guard is custom-formed to each patient’s mouth, achieving a comfortable fit. The guard can be worn in the daytime or during sleep to prevent damage to the teeth. Bite correction, or realigning the teeth so that they mesh properly when the mouth is closed, may also be a procedure used by dentists to conquer bruxism.
Talk to your family dentist today if you have concerns about tooth grinding or clenching. With early intervention and treatment, you can avoid the pain and damage that this condition causes, helping to ensure a healthy smile for years to come, assures Dr. Thomas Cooke.