Do you unconsciously grind your teeth together when you're sleeping, when you feel stress, or at other times? This type of teeth grinding or clenching is known as bruxism and it's fairly common, but it can also lead to problems.
If you think that you or someone you know might have bruxism, a dentist is the best person to talk to about it. They can check your teeth for possible signs of grinding and discuss treatments to help you stop grinding your teeth or reduce its effects.
What are the effects of teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding doesn't always cause problems, but prolonged grinding is often associated with:
- disturbed sleep
- pain in the head, face, ears, jaw or neck, especially after waking up
- difficulty using the jaw joint, which may be related to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
- sensitive teeth, especially to hot or cold food and drink
- worn, chipped, cracked or loose teeth
These symptoms are likely to get worse without treatment.
Why do people grind their teeth at night?
People may grind their teeth for many reasons, which can be broadly categorised as:
- Psychological – when feeling anxiety or stress, or not getting enough sleep
- Physical – if the teeth don't come together normally when the jaws are closed, due to an uneven biting surface or missing teeth
- Medical – linked to sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, diseases such as Parkinson's and epilepsy or certain medications, such as antidepressants
- Lifestyle – alcohol, caffeine, smoking and recreational drugs such as cocaine can also increase bruxism risk
Bruxism can have more than a single cause, which all need to be addressed if treatments are to be effective.
How can I stop grinding my teeth?
The treatment for teeth grinding depends on the cause. If you see your dentist for a diagnosis, they will ask you some questions and examine your mouth to try to determine if this cause may be physical, psychological, medical or a combination of factors so they can recommend the most suitable treatments.
Treatment recommendations may include any of the following, depending on your individual situation.
Improving your sleeping habits, giving up alcohol, tobacco and stimulants (or cutting down) and trying to avoid stressful situations could help to reduce teeth grinding at night.
If you have a lot of stress or anxiety, home relaxation techniques or professional counselling services could help.
If your dentist thinks your bruxism might be related to your teeth, they'll discuss appropriate treatments that could help to alleviate it. These can include:
- wearing an occlusal splint over your teeth at night to prevent them from touching
- orthodontics to straighten crooked or misaligned teeth
- repairing or reshaping teeth with fillings or crowns
If the above treatments don't apply or aren't effective, a doctor or other specialist may prescribe medication such as a muscle relaxant to reduce teeth grinding symptoms.
If your bruxism may be related to an underlying problem, such as sleep apnoea, TMJ dysfunction or a medical condition, treating the condition could also stop or reduce the severity of teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding and sleep apnoea treatment in Auckland
If you or someone in your family has a problem with teeth grinding, snoring or another sleep disorder, our dentists in St Heliers might be able to help, or we can refer you to someone who can.