Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, often causes jaw pain and structural damage to teeth. Many people don’t realize they are grinding their teeth until pain develops or their dentist notices the wear on the top of their teeth.
Most people squeak on an irregular basis, such as when anxious or stressed. Some squeak all the time. Although infrequent grinding usually does not cause harm, grinding your teeth frequently can lead to a number of complications for general oral health.
What causes teeth grinding?
Many factors contribute to teeth grinding. The most common causes of bruxism are related to stress and anxiety. It’s not uncommon for someone in the face of ongoing stress to cringe. The grinding sensation may seem like a type of stress relief to the individual.
Those who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol or use tobacco products are more likely to grind their teeth, as are those who use recreational drugs. If you drink a lot of caffeine, more than 6 cups a day, this also puts you at higher risk for bruxism.
Another factor is medication. Those who take anti-anxiety medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are more likely to grind their teeth than those who don’t.
Types of bruxism
There are two main types of bruxism, defined by when it occurs. The creaking motion that occurs under these conditions is the same.
It is often fueled by feelings of anxiety, stress, or anger. A stressed or anxious person may clench their jaws and grind their teeth during the day in order to regulate their emotions. It can also occur when a person is heavily focused on a subject, often deep in thought.
In most cases, awake bruxism does not require treatment, as the grinding is usually less prominent. A person who suffers from awake bruxism must first be aware of it and then make efforts to stop it. This may require using stress management to help find a way to reduce the desire to cringe.
The second type, sleep bruxism, can occur for a variety of reasons. As the term suggests, this type of bruxism occurs when you grind your teeth while you sleep. This type of squeaking is harder to prevent without intervention because you can’t just become aware of it, just because you’re sleeping! This is why this type of grinding usually causes more damage to the teeth.
One of the main concerns is that people with this type of bruxism don’t realize how strongly they are clenching their jaws when grinding. In some cases, this can create up to 250 pounds of force when squeaking. This is what usually causes jaw pain and damage to the surface of the teeth. For some, waking up frequently with a headache is an indication that this type of teeth grinding is occurring.
Detecting that we grind our teeth is not always easy. If you observe any of the following conditions, it is quite possible that you grind your teeth during your sleep or even during the day:
Jaw pain: If you wake up every morning with pain or a feeling of stiffness and tension in your jaw, this could indicate teeth grinding.
Squeaking noise: Some people’s squeaking noise can be so loud that it wakes them from their sleep. It can even wake up your partner.
Wear: Wear of the tooth enamel, especially on the upper parts of the teeth, is another indication. This condition often leads to exposure of the deeper layers of your teeth.
Damaged teeth: In addition to flattening, some people also have broken or chipped teeth . Others also have shaky teeth that are not explained by other conditions.
Extensive pain: The jaw pain you are feeling may be more extensive than you think. In some cases, people also experience pain and tenderness in the neck and face. Some pain feels like an earache, although there are no signs of infection or inflammation in the ear.
Headaches: You might have a dull headache from time to time. This often concentrates in the temple area.
Cheek damage: The grinding motion can damage the inner soft tissues of the mouth.
If you observe any of these symptoms, seek immediate help from your dentist. This can help determine if squeaking is occurring and what the appropriate treatment might be.
Consequences of teeth grinding
Not taking steps to address your teeth grinding problem is worrying, especially since it can last for years, resulting in substantial damage to your teeth. Most of the time, bruxism does not cause very serious damage, but it can cause problems such as:
Tooth repairs can be difficult and in some cases dental implants or dental crowns may be necessary. Left untreated, the cracks and holes in teeth created by grinding can allow bacteria to seep in, leading to pain, infection and tooth damage.
Your dentist can tell if you are a victim of bruxism by observing the damage to your teeth. Once diagnosed, you may consider the following treatment options.
Treatment of underlying issues
If you have an underlying problem contributing to your teeth grinding, treat it first. For example, if an anxiety issue is causing the intense grinding, work with a therapist to overcome that frustration and pain. For those with a sleep disorder, it is possible to work with a doctor to develop a better understanding of why it is happening and what can be done about it.