Also called “bruxism,” teeth grinding can damage the teeth, jaw bone, and jaw joints if not properly controlled. Occasional teeth grinding is common, especially during moments of stress, but many people clench their teeth together throughout the day, or, more frequently, when they’re asleep. Understanding your clenching and grinding tendencies can help you protect your long term oral health.
How Do I Know that I Grind My Teeth?
Most people grind their teeth or clench their jaw while they’re asleep; therefore, many grinders do so unknowingly until told by partner, who may hear the grating sounds at night. Your dentist will be able to see signs of bruxism during your dental checkups, as your teeth tend to wear each other down over time. If you notice several of the following symptoms, you may be unwittingly clenching and grinding your teeth.
- You tend to wake up with unexplained headaches
- You have TMJD, a painful jaw disorder, or have difficulty opening and closing your mouth in the mornings
- You sleep with a partner who has mentioned your teeth make grating sounds while you sleep
- You suffer from sleep apnea
- You notice your teeth feeling looser or worn down
- Even if you do not notice more than one of these common bruxism symptoms, it’s important to maintain regular dental checkups so that your dentist can examine your mouth for signs of grinding.
What’s So Bad About Grinding?
Sometimes, if your grinding is mild, you may not notice any symptoms of bruxism. However, over time, even light clenching can wear down your teeth and cause other oral health problems. Complications of grinding and clenching include:
- Worn teeth – sometimes, long-term grinding can wear teeth down to stumps
- Fractured or cracked teeth, or losing your teeth altogether
- TMDJ, a disorder of the jaw
- Frequent, severe headaches
- Facial changes, including structure and appearance
How Can I Stop Grinding My Teeth?
In most cases of bruxism, some small lifestyle changes can dramatically improve clenching your teeth and its consequences.
- Reduce your intake of caffeinated food and drink, especially in the afternoon. Caffeine before bed can increase your risk of clenching your teeth while you sleep.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, as grinding tends to intensity with inebriation.
- Train yourself not to chew on pencil erasers, fingernails, or even gum if you find that it aggravates your jaw.
- Join an exercise or yoga class, or practice meditation before bed to allow your facial muscles to relax.
- Before bed, hold a warm compress to each side of your face to help relax your jaw muscles.
- If you suffer from anxiety, consider practicing mindfulness or other behavioral exercises that can help reduce your physical – and mental – tension.
- Ask your dentist for a fitted mouth guard or retainer to wear at night; separating your teeth slightly with a thin retainer can drastically reduce grinding and keep your face more relaxed.
If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from bruxism, or if you notice an increased frequency in headaches, jaw pain, or facial tension, talk to your dentist about a checkup for grinding and clenching, and ask about preventative treatments that can help you sleep tension-free.