First of all, we have to confess . . . there really is no good way to prevent teeth grinding. Because teeth grinding is a subconscious habit, it is almost impossible to prevent. In most cases, it occurs while you are sleeping, so you truly have no control over it.
A better title for this blog would be “How to Prevent the Damage of Teeth Grinding”. We may not be able to stop the grinding itself, but we can go a long way towards stopping any damage it could cause.
What Causes Teeth Grinding?
There is not one simple answer to this question. Teeth grinding in general has many possible causes. The cause of each individual person’s grinding can be difficult to determine and to address.
We live in a society full of stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of American adults regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. One of these physical symptoms is increased muscle tension. This can lead to tightness in the head, neck and shoulders, and it can contribute to teeth grinding.
Tension in the muscles of the cheeks and temples forces the teeth together in either a clenching or grinding action. These are both bad for your teeth, gums, muscles and jaw joints.
- Airway constriction
Those who suffer from airway issues during sleep (like sleep apnea) have a very high risk of teeth grinding. An airway constriction lowers the oxygen levels in your bloodstream. Once the brain detects this, it sends a signal to your jaws to “open the airway”. Your jaw react by clenching the teeth together and sometimes pushing the lower teeth forward in a grinding motion.
Teeth grinding can actually help your dentist or doctor detect an airway problem in its early stages.
- Bite problems
In some cases, changes in the way the upper and lower teeth bite together can trigger a clenching or grinding reflex. This may be the result of new dental work, intended tooth movement (with braces or aligners), unintended tooth movement, or changes in the jaw joints. Some researchers hypothesize that the reflex to clench or grind the teeth in response to bite changes occurs because you are subconsciously trying to make your teeth “fit together” the way they used to.
- TMJ problems
Problems in the jaw joints themselves (just in front of each of your ears) can also lead to teeth grinding. Just as joint problems in other areas of the body can lead to muscle tension around that joint, the same can occur in the face. The TMJ is an extremely complicated joint. The proper balance of muscle tension, joint position, and the bite all work together to keep the joint healthy.
When problems occur in the joint, they often lead to problems in each of those areas. Not everyone who has TMJ problems clenches her teeth, and not everyone who clenches has TMJ problems. It is very common for them to occur together, but they can occur independently of one another.
What are the Symptoms of Teeth Grinding?
Many people know that they grind (or clench) their teeth. Consistent heavy forces of grinding or clenching may cause one or more of the following symptoms.
- Headaches, especially upon waking
- Facial pain
- Tightness in the muscles of the face and neck
- General soreness of all the teeth
- Generalized sensitivity to cold on all the teeth
- Pain in the jaw joints
- Ringing in the ears
What Damage does Teeth Grinding Cause?
Some people have no idea that they are grinding their teeth! Even if it is not obvious to you, it will probably be obvious to your dentist. The things your dentist sees inside the mouth are “signs” of teeth grinding. They include:
- Callous along the inside of the cheeks, called linea alba
- Scalloped sides of the tongue, also called “pie crust tongue”
- Flattening or wearing away of the biting surfaces of the teeth
- Shortening of the front teeth, sometimes with chipping along the biting edges
- Receding gums
- Notches in the teeth where they meet the gums, called abfractions
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Enlarged facial muscles
Many people are completely unaware that they have a clenching or grinding problem until their dentists note these signs. Once made aware, you may begin to notice that you also have some of the symptoms listed in the previous section.
How Can I Prevent Damage from Teeth Grinding?
So, as we stated earlier, you cannot really stop the teeth grinding itself. But you can prevent the damage it causes. Because teeth clenching or grinding can occur both during daytime and during sleep, we will address those separately.
Some people find themselves clenching or grinding their teeth throughout the day. This frequently occurs when concentrating, facing stressful situations like driving in rush hour traffic, or working out. Since wearing a mouthguard throughout the day is impractical, the best prevention for daytime grinding is focused habit breaking.
In order to break this type of habit, you have to force yourself to become more aware of the habit itself. Because clenching and grinding are often subconscious habits, you must become aware of them before you can stop them. With today’s technology, the easiest technique is setting up a frequent alarm/reminder on a smartphone. When it goes off, ask yourself, “Are my upper and lower teeth touching?” If yes, then swallow and place your tongue between your teeth. Doing this consistently throughout the day can help break the habit of clenching or grinding.
The majority of clenching and/or grinding occurs during sleep. You cannot physically stop yourself while you are sleeping. For this reason, the best prevention of damage is by wearing a mouthguard, usually called a nightguard since it is only worn at night.
A nightguard functions to prevent damage to the teeth by separating the teeth with a barrier. There are multiple types of nightguards, and some are better than others.
- Over-the-counter nightguard – OTC nightguards are soft in consistency. They offer protection to the teeth by placing a barrier between them. They do not reduce the muscle forces, and sometimes they can actually increase the muscle forces. The soft material has a kind of “stress ball” effect. Its squishiness sometimes makes you want to clench into it harder. This increases muscle tension and can worsen headaches or facial pain.
- Custom professional nightguard – The best option to reduce both the signs and symptoms of clenching and/or grinding is a custom-fitted professionally made nightguard. Your dentist can create a perfectly fitting hard nightguard that separates the teeth and reduces the muscle forces. It also alleviates pressure on the TMJs, so it helps with joint pain and ringing in the ears.
More Questions about Teeth Grinding?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our wonderful dentists. We can answer any question you may have about teeth grinding and its effects on your mouth.