Teeth grinding during sleep is usually involuntary, and often times an individual suffering from the condition will not know until the symptoms are present or until a dental checkup. Also known medically as bruxism, this condition involves the constant grinding, gnashing or clenching of the teeth. While mild cases may not require treatment, more serious cases can lead to future dental complications if left untreated. Be sure to have regular dental checkups to catch and treat teeth grinding symptoms.
There are many different reasons why bruxism occurs, and it may be different for everyone. Even doctors today cannot determine the exact cause of teeth grinding. Some of the more universal causes for bruxism include:
- Unresolved anxiety, stress, tension or fear
- Suppressed anger or frustration
- An aggressive, competitive, hyperactive personality
- Abnormal sleep problems or habits
- Misalignment of upper and lower teeth
- Crooked or missing teeth
- In children, response to pain from teething or an earache
- Complications or side effect of other medical diseases, such as Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease
- Side effects of other medication, such as antidepressants
Since teeth grinding often happens during sleep, it is common that a person will not know if he or she is suffering from bruxism until a dentist is consulted. Below are some signs and symptoms that may indicate teeth grinding while sleeping:
- Continuous dull headaches
- Sore or painful jaw
- Heightened teeth sensitivity to cold, hot, sweet, or sour foods
- Loose and/or fractured teeth with unknown reasons
- Stress or insomnia
- Earaches (as the jaw bone is close to the ear canal)
- Chronic facial pain
- Damage on the inside of the cheeks or tongue from chewing
- Worn tooth enamel
One guaranteed way is to ask your sleep partner or family members to observe your sleep habits. If they can detect a crunching, grinding or clicking sound during your sleep, you are most likely grinding your teeth. If bruxism is left untreated, your jaw joint and bones may become damaged in the long run due to constant wear and tear. It is also unhealthy for your teeth, as they can fracture or wear down. Untreated teeth grinding can feel extremely uncomfortable and annoying.
There are several steps that can be taken to maximize prevention of teeth grinding during sleep:
- Reduce stress: since stress, fear, and anxiety is a common culprit in teeth grinding, stress reduction may help prevent future episodes of bruxism. Try yoga, meditation or talking to a family member for stress management.
- Avoid stimulants at night: stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and smoking, may impede the body from properly relaxing. For sensitive individuals, bright lights, television, and computer screens can also be stimulants. Be sure to properly “cool down” an hour before bed by dimming the lights and relaxing to help avoid teeth grinding.
- Visit your dentist regularly: your dentist will be the most effective person to determine whether or not you suffer from bruxism, as he or she can see the wear and tear effects.
While most children outgrow bruxism, it can be a nuisance for adult sufferers. There are several ways to relieve teeth grinding:
- Mouth guards: the most common way to relieve teeth grinding is to wear a mouth guard during sleep. Mouth guards can be easily obtained at the local drug store, or your dentist can also fit you with a customized mouth guard for a more comfortable fit.
- Stress relief: if your bruxism is caused by stress, fear or anxiety, you may find relief through stress management therapy. Exercise, meditation, physical therapy, relaxation techniques or professional counseling can be effective methods to help against teeth grinding due to stress.
- Dental work: if the teeth grinding is associated with dental problems, such as crooked or missing teeth, bruxism may be lessened by fixing such problems. Sometimes, tooth crowns, braces or splints may be used to aid reconstructive dental work.
- Biofeedback therapy: if teeth grinding is of a behavioral nature or is habit-based, biofeedback therapy can be helpful. Biofeedback is characterized by a combination of alternative medicine and monitoring procedures that teaches and regulates involuntary responses. Sometimes, machines and equipment can also be used.
- Medication: although not commonly used, sometimes doctors may choose to prescribe muscle relaxants for the patient to take before sleeping. If teeth grinding is a side effect of a prior medication, the doctor may also change the drug therapy to alleviate bruxism.