Do you or a loved one suffer from teeth grinding? As the life expectancy of Americans has increased into our eighties and nineties, our teeth must also last longer. Years ago, it was common for people to live not much past age 65 and if 65 and if they did live to be older, they would often wear dentures or partials. Now almost all live to around eighty years old or older.
Teeth grinding or clenching is called Bruxism. This is the technical term for grinding (sliding your teeth back and forth over each other) and clenching (tightly hold your top and bottom teeth together) of the teeth that may cause facial pain.
People who grind and clench their teeth, called bruxers, unintentionally bite down too hard at inappropriate times, often as they sleep.
People usually aren’t diagnosed with bruxism until it is too late, as many people don’t realize they have the habit. Many of my patients are what I call stealth grinders. That means there are no symptoms, such as jaw pain, headache, or sore muscles in the morning. These people also make no sounds while grinding at night (for example, clench as hard as you can… what do you hear?) Others mistakenly believe that their teeth must touch at all times. In my practice, I find about one in four people suffer from bruxism, which can easily be treated, although sleep-related bruxism is often the bigger problem and is harder to control.
The cause of teeth grinding (bruxism) is not completely agreed upon, but daily stress may be the trigger in many people. Some people probably clench their teeth and never feel symptoms. Whether or not bruxism causes pain and other problems may be a complicated mix of factors:
When a person clenches or bruxes the teeth, they put pressure on the muscles, teeth, tissues, and other structures around their jaw. The symptoms can cause temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ).
Prevention comes in the form of mouth guards (night guards), which gently hold your teeth in position and stress management recommendations. Restorative procedures may also be done to bring back your once vibrant smile.