Teeth grinding (also known as Bruxism in formal medical parlance) is a condition many people suffer from. It often occurs during sleep so many sufferers may not be aware of how severely or frequently they grind or clench their teeth.
Tooth damage is one of the most obvious dangers of teeth grinding. One of the risks of grinding your teeth is that you will damage your enamel, which is the outer protective layer that coats each tooth. Stress fractures or craze lines in the enamel almost always occur eventually if bruxism is not treated in its early stages. These are vertical hairline cracks in the enamel and individuals who suffer from teeth grinding may experience stress fractures to many of their molars. Many patients notice these fractures, which appear light brown in color, and seek the advice of a dentist thinking the discoloration is the beginning of cavities. Stress fractures do not necessarily mean that the tooth will crack, however, in the absence of treatment, these cracks can worsen, becoming deeper and leading to more serious cracks in the tooth.
Chips or cracks to the enamel can have serious consequences for your oral health. Enamel is essentially lifeless meaning it has no living cells or nerves. This means that once damaged or destroyed, it cannot repair itself and a lack of enamel means that your teeth have no line of defence when it comes to bacteria, acid or chemicals. Inside the tooth, under your enamel, there is a hard layer called the dentin and under this is an inner soft tissue referred to as the pulp. This is where all the tooth’s nerve and blood vessels are. If the enamel is eroded and the tooth becomes cracked, any movement of the mouth and jaw can cause the movement of this pulp which will then become irritated and damaged. Exposure of the dentin and pulp means it is likely bacteria in the mouth will infect the pulp and this type of damage is also irreparable.
Put simply, any kind of tooth damage caused by teeth grinding puts you at risk of tooth decay and erosion, gum and periodontal disease, oral infections and tooth loss. In some cases, extensive tooth restoration may be necessary.
In addition, as one's teeth wear out, they become shorter. This causes the upper and lower jaw to come together with greater impact when one is chewing, which further exacerbates the problem. Many patients also suffer from eroded enamel that occurs from the constant clenching and grinding seen with the disorder. In some cases, patients grind their molars deep into the gum line, from where they must be surgically extracted.
Teeth grinding leads to excessive pressure being placed on one's jaw. The jaw is the human skull's largest bone, and as such it is able to withstand substantial pressure. However, when the excessive pressure becomes habitual, the result is often a very painful condition called Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome–TMJ. Unfortunately, those suffering from Bruxism are rarely aware of what they are doing until painful symptoms present themselves. Teeth grinding leads to fatigued jaw joints and nighttime grinding has a bigger impact on the jaw because your protective reflexes turn off while you’re sleeping, which means that the grinding can be a lot more damaging and painful without you realising. Symptoms include earache, headaches, clicking in the jaw and chronic jaw pain. It can also lead to the development of a condition known as “masticatory muscle hypertrophy,” which means that the jaw muscles increase somewhat significantly in size due to over-training.
Teeth grinding can lead to chronic pain of the jaw, which then makes everyday tasks like talking, chewing, swallowing and biting unbearably painful.
Eventual jaw misalignment almost always occurs in cases of untreated, long-term teeth grinding. If the misalignment is severe in nature, it can only be corrected through surgery. In other extreme cases, the disk in your jaw joints can become damaged by being worn through or coming out of position. This can mean that bone rubs on bone and eventually lead to arthritis.
Those with bruxism are also not good candidates for a dental implant, which is an artificial tooth that is often used to replace a natural tooth, typically a molar, that was pulled. Implants are considered by dentists to be superior to bridge work, but they are rarely recommended for those with uncontrolled bruxism as such patients frequently grind the device too far into their gum line and subsequently damage their jaw.
Additional complications include an overdeveloped masseter muscle from the continuous grinding, which can damage the saliva glands in the mouth and lead to periodic swelling and pain.
Digestive problems can also occur. As teeth grinding wears down the enamel and potentially exposes the dentin and pulp, sufferers may be unable to chew their food properly. This causes digestive issues because food that is only partially chewed creates an accumulation of digestive acid. With this comes problems like heartburn, reflux and indigestion.
To avoid establishing a destructive, long-term pattern, those who are aware that they have developed a teeth grinding habit or are concerned they may be suffering from bruxism should seek the advice of a dental professional as soon as possible.
One treatment option is a night guard, which is a orthodontic device that can be placed in the mouth during the night to prevent subconscious grinding while one is asleep. For more information, please read on about teeth grinding treatment.