Teeth grinding (bruxism) is the involuntary clenching, grinding and gnashing of the teeth. It is thought that about half of the population bruxes from time to time, while around five per cent are habitual and forceful tooth grinders. Bruxism can be a physical expression of stress; for example, susceptible people may tend to grind their teeth when they are angry, concentrating hard on a particular task or feeling anxious. Generally, the person doesn’t realise that they grind their teeth in their sleep. The spouse or partner who shares their bed (and hears the grinding noises at night) is often the first to notice the problem.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of bruxism include:
- Audible grinding sounds while the person is asleep
- Headache, jaw joint and/or ear pain
- Aching teeth, particularly upon waking
- Aching and/or stiffness of the face and temples upon waking
- Aching or stiffness in the jaws while chewing, particularly during breakfast
- Clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating
- Temperature-sensitive teeth
- Cracked or chipped tooth enamel
- Tooth indentations on the tongue
- Raised tissue on the cheek mucosa caused by cheek biting (linea alba)
A range of causes:
Some of the many factors believed to trigger bruxism in susceptible people include:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
- Emotional stress, such as anger or anxiety
- Mental concentration
- Physical effort or stress, such as illness, nutritional deficiency or dehydration
- Incorrect tooth alignment, including fillings that are too ‘high’
- Drug misuse (particularly amphetamines)
If you suspect you grind your teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist will examine your teeth and may take x-rays to gauge the severity of the problem and the damage to teeth and bone.
You should consult your dental professional for their recommended course of treatment. Dental treatment options include:
- Repair of tooth damage
- Adjustment of fillings that may be too high and interfering with the bite (not adjustment of teeth)
- Mouth appliances to be worn at night
– Bite splints, where you grind the appliance and not your teeth. In most cases, these appliances will only provide relief from the associated symptoms and will not stop you from grinding your teeth.
– Mandibular Advancement Splints advance the lower jaw to maintain an open airway while sleeping preventing you from grinding your teeth.