The only good time to be grinding your teeth is when you have food between them. Research shows that we exert 4-5 times greater force on our teeth during parafunctional activities compared to just plain-old chewing. So, the importance of getting a knowledgeable dentist to minimize the desire to do and damage that could be caused by these habits cannot be underscored!
Bruxism. That’s the technical term for grinding your teeth. Most teeth grinding happens at night, and you may not even be aware of it. Your spouse may notice (and complain about) the noise, or other common symptoms might indicate you have a teeth-grinding problem. Symptoms of nighttime clenching and grinding can include headaches, jaw soreness, earache, or teeth that are fractured, chipped, or loose. The constant muscular strain of grinding can cause all kinds of damage, including wear and tear on your teeth and jaw muscles. Severe bruxism can actually change the way you bite! You might unconsciously alter the way you bite and chew in order to use the undamaged parts of your teeth.
Teeth grinding can be conscious or unconscious, and it can occur during the day as well as at night. Teeth that aren’t properly aligned can cause your jaws to shift between different positions to find the most peaceful indexing of your teeth. When you introduce stress, this can make you grind even harder. Anger can also cause grinding and clenching, especially during the day. If your boss is a jerk, he may be ruining your teeth and jaw as well as your day!
It’s best to schedule an appointment with us (610-525-5497) if you suspect you might suffer from bruxism. We’ll be able to tell from the wear and tear on your teeth if you have a problem with grinding. We can talk about the factors that are causing the imbalance in your bite and maybe even adjust your bite to make a more harmonious bite that will reduce your grinding. It’s possible you’ll need to be fitted with a mouthguard, splint, or other dental device that can help protect your teeth and jaws from the effects of teeth-grinding. Over-the-counter mouthguards aren’t nearly as effective because they aren’t molded for your individual bite, and they can become dislodged when you grind your teeth at night.
The most important part of the solution is eliminating traumatic contacts between individual top and bottom teeth. This is called equilibration. Treatment without evaluating the balance of your bite and correcting it is just palliative treatment and won’t likely get you a long-term solution.
There are some things you can do to help stop yourself from grinding your teeth. The most important tip is to eliminate stress as much as possible. That’s important not only for your dental health, but for your overall well-being! But even completely eliminating stress won’t stop your problems if your bite is not adjusted properly.
Cut back on food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as soda (which is very naughty for your teeth anyway!), coffee, tea, and chocolate. Some say to avoid alcohol, especially right before bed. Alcohol has been known to intensify teeth-grinding, and can also cause sleep disruption in general. Others find it very relaxing. Use your judgement.
You can try to relax your jaw by putting a warm washcloth against your cheek. If you catch yourself clenching or grinding during the day, position the tip of your tongue between your front teeth. That will force your jaws to relax and can help you break the habit of clenching your jaw muscles.
You also want to avoid chewing on anything that is not food! This includes pens, pencils, or anything else you tend to gnaw on out of habit. You also may want to cut back on – or eliminate – gum chewing. Chewing gum can make your jaws used to the grinding and clenching motion.
As always, at Dillon Family Dentistry, we are here to help! If you suffer from headaches, teeth or jaw pain, or just need to schedule a cleaning, give us a call today at 610-525-5497. We look forward to hearing from you!