Teeth grinding and jaw clenching may be a habit you only realize you have from indirect evidence. If you’re waking up with a sore, stiff jaw, that can be a sign that you’re clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth when you sleep. Sometimes people find out that they’re grinding their teeth when their spouse or partner complains about the noise it makes at night. Or perhaps you find your jaw tensing up during the day as well (although not always). In fact, 80% of people grind their teeth at night and most don’t even know. When left unchecked, teeth grinding can have serious and cumulative adverse effects, so if you’re aware that you have this problem it’s best to address it as soon as possible.
What Teeth Grinding Does to Your Jaw, Teeth, and Face
The earliest sign you’re likely to notice from teeth grinding (also called bruxism) is muscle discomfort, especially if the grinding occurs at night. If you’re clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth all night, you’ll wake up with jaw and facial muscles that have been active and tense for hours. Some people can even develop temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder from the continual wear and tear that inflames the muscles and ligaments around the jaw joints.
Teeth grinding doesn’t just affect the muscles, though. Over time, excessive friction and pressure damage your teeth. This can result in chipping, breakage, or flattening of the teeth. Aside from making your teeth look worse, this damage can make your teeth sensitive or painful, depending on the extent of the harm done.
Finally, bruxism can even change the shape of your face. Your teeth help define the height of the lower half of your face. When teeth grinding makes your teeth shorter, that also shortens the distance between your nose and your chin, altering your appearance. Though less common, the increase in muscle bulk around your jawline from the excessive muscle activity can make it look rounder as well.
In cases where teeth grinding has already caused significant deterioration, the only way to repair damage may be crowned in cases where the existing tooth root can be saved or techniques like dental implants where the root cannot be salvaged at all. Because teeth grinding usually affects several teeth simultaneously, if not the entire mouth, this type of rehabilitation is often lengthy, painful, and expensive. It’s much better to work on preventing damage, to begin with.
Preventing Teeth Grinding
If you grind your teeth during the day, it can be a bit easier to break the habit. You’ll need to increase your awareness of what your mouth is doing while you’re awake and consciously relax your jaw when you find your teeth clamped together. Ideally, your teeth should not touch when your mouth is closed and you’re at rest. As with any unconscious habit, though, daytime teeth grinding can be difficult to train yourself out of, and it will require patience to develop better patterns. Nighttime teeth grinding is a different story. When you’re not awake to notice when you’re doing it, you don’t have any opportunity to change your habits.
One proven cause of teeth grinding is having a deep overbite, which is when the top teeth cover half or more of the bottom teeth. Orthodontic treatment can correct a deep overbite and therefore prevent teeth grinding. However, if patients aren’t ready to undergo orthodontic treatment, or don’t want to, a custom-fitted night guard is the next best option.
A custom mouthguard can protect your teeth while you sleep. In addition to reducing the discomfort you experience by lessening muscle activity, it will prevent the wear to your enamel which creates sensitivity and makes your teeth prone to breaking and chipping.
While there are mass-produced mouthguards on the market, one that is custom-fitted by a dental professional will conform exactly to the shape of your mouth and teeth, making it more comfortable to wear and more effective at protecting your teeth. Getting a professionally fitted mouthguard as soon as you discover you have a problem with teeth grinding and wearing it consistently will save you a world of pain and expense down the road.
Preserving Your Teeth
At B Orthodontics, we’re dedicated to helping our patients create and preserve beautiful, healthy smiles. We treat deep overbites and create high-quality custom mouth guards to help our patients experiencing teeth grinding avoid damage to their teeth and rest easier. If you’re grinding your teeth (or think you might be), we have the solution to keep your teeth healthy. Contact us here to schedule a consultation.