Most people grind their teeth from time to time. Times of stress or anxiety (or even an extra tough workout) can lead us to clench our jaws and grit our teeth without even realizing it.
But for about 8% of the U.S. population, teeth grinding happens all the time – and it can cause real problems for their oral health. Dentists call this condition “bruxism” (BRUK-siz-um).
In most cases, bruxism is a harmless condition. In fact, because most teeth grinding happens at night, some people can go years without knowing they have it! But for some, bruxism can cause real harm like headaches, jaw pain, and worn down or loose teeth.
How do you know if you have bruxism? How can you prevent it? Here are a few tips for dealing with teeth grinding.
What is Bruxism?
Simply put, bruxism is a condition that leads people to grind their teeth. This can happen when a person is awake (awake bruxism) or asleep (sleep bruxism), but it is always an unconscious behavior. Most people with bruxism don’t know it until someone – like their dentist – brings it to their attention.
A few different factors can cause a person to develop bruxism. Stress or anxiety can be a major factor. Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can also lead a person to grind their teeth at night. Age also seems to play a role in this condition; while only 8% of adults grind their teeth, studies indicate that over a third of children do (many grow out of this habit).
While these factors can lead a person to grind their teeth, misaligned teeth are the greatest cause of bruxism. Individuals with an abnormal bite or crooked teeth are more likely to grind their teeth than people with straight smiles.
Signs, Symptoms, and Risks
It can be difficult to know whether you have bruxism. After all, you don’t always know what your body does while you sleep! But there are a few tell-tale signs that can help you find out if your teeth need treatment.
The most common signs of bruxism occur right when you wake up: a dull headache and a sore jaw. If you regularly notice these sensations first thing in the morning, you might want to mention them to your dentist. He or she can check your teeth for other signs of teeth grinding, such as worn or loose teeth.
Getting treatment for bruxism early on will help you avoid greater problems later in life. If left unchecked, chronic grinding can lead you to fracture your teeth – or worse, wear them down to stumps! In those instances, dental implants, crowns, and other procedures may be needed to keep your smile healthy. If you take preventative steps early, however, you might be able to avoid these treatments.
How to Prevent Bruxism
The easiest way to stop grinding your teeth at night is to use a mouth guard. Your dentist can make you a custom guard to wear while you sleep, which will prevent your teeth from rubbing together.
You can also make small lifestyle changes to prevent yourself from grinding your teeth. Avoiding stress is ideal for your mental, physical, and oral health – but if you can’t de-stress, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. This will help relax your muscles (including the ones in your jaw) and prevent grinding.
Bruxism may seem like a minor issue, but it can have a major impact on the health and the beauty of your smile. If you think you might be grinding your teeth (either while awake or asleep), make sure you talk to your dentist right away.