Teeth grinding, or clenching is a condition known as bruxism. It can happen during the day or overnight and may come and go at different points in life.
Daytime bruxism is often stress related. It is best managed with awareness, prevention, and overall stress reduction. Management includes self-massage, resting of the jaw in a slightly open position, a warm compress, or a painkiller when needed. Nighttime bruxism can also be stress-related, or it may indicate a sleep disorder. If you are grinding, snoring, often feel fatigued, or have short pauses in breathing during sleep you may have sleep apnea. A lack of oxygen and quality sleep can contribute to widespread health problems.
As dentists, we are concerned about habitual grinding and clenching for three reasons:
You may be experiencing frequent pain in the cheeks, temples, and other areas. We can treat the symptoms with a custom-fitted appliance worn overnight to decrease clenching force by up to 90 percent. This allows the facial muscles to be more relaxed.
You may be damaging your teeth over time. If you wear down the outer enamel, you will eventually wear the inner layer (dentin) which will break down about 7 times faster. The loss of curves in the shape of the teeth is an indication of wear. This condition can become severe leading to early tooth loss or expensive reconstruction of the entire mouth.
The average person has a biting force of 200-300 pounds per square inch (psi), but somebody who has developed strong jaw muscles due to bruxism can generate 500-900 psi over a period of hours when grinding and clenching is happening. This increased force and time of muscle action often leads to gum recession, broken/chipped teeth, fillings, crowns, and veneers not to mention frequent visits to the dentist.
So, if you are experiencing signs of teeth grinding or clenching, a bruxism appliance may be the right solution for you.