For most people, sleep is a time for your body to rest and rejuvenate so you can wake up energized and refreshed for the next day. However, unfortunately for a surprising amount of people, sleep can actually be a time where they inflict pain on themselves without realizing. People who grind their teeth or bite their tongue in their sleep may find themselves waking up with a sore jaw, mouth or face every morning. Does this sound like you?
Often people are made aware of their teeth grinding in various ways: some are told by disgruntled partners who can’t sleep because of the sound and others find out by waking themselves up with the noise.
Teeth grinding is medically referred to as bruxism. Bruxism is the involuntary habit of clenching, gnashing or grinding your teeth together and it can occur when you’re sleeping or when you’re awake but often people don’t register that they’re doing it. It’s a condition that is more common in children but still affects around 1 in 10 adults. Our teeth are not designed to be in contact all the time, in fact, they are only meant to lightly touch when we chew, bite and swallow. For this reason, bruxism can be very destructive to the teeth, gums, jaw and mouth.
One of the problems of frequently grinding your teeth in your sleep is that the movement and friction wear down your tooth enamel, the outer layer that covers each tooth. The enamel acts as a shield for each tooth, protecting it from those substances that cause it damage. It also insulates the teeth from changes in temperature when eating very hot or cold foods. Once the enamel is damaged, by constant grinding, it means that tooth decay and erosion can happen because there is nothing to protect the tooth from bacteria, chipping and cracking. This also puts you at risk of various oral infections. The worst part, however, is that once enamel is destroyed it cannot be repaired or restored because it has no living cells. This is why a serious case of bruxism can lead to decay, periodontal disease, gum infections, chronic pain, broken teeth and potentially tooth loss.
The intensity, frequency and directional forces of the grinding will be different with every patient, so the observed effects it has may vary. Some patients will exhibit wear facets limited to the anterior teeth; some will have destroyed posterior teeth; some will present with wear limited only to a specific quadrant, jaw or side; and some will show wear and tear on all teeth. A number of people are diagnosed to be grinding teeth on a regular basis and these patients are prescribed with the appropriate treatment, based on their need. One of the main questions people ask is why they grind their teeth and this is important to investigate when seeking a solution. To better manage the condition, it is essential that the cause is known:
Stress and Anxiety: The most common cause of teeth grinding is as a response to stress and anxiety. In fact, more than half of teeth grinding cases stem from stress. A person who is constantly under stressed or frequently put in situations that make them anxious are more prone to grinding and clenching their teeth, whether they do it when they’re asleep or awake.
Side-Effect of Medications and Medical Conditions: Night grinding is also observed as a drug side-effect. A patient taking psychotropic drugs such as antipsychotics and antidepressants may develop teeth grinding as a side-effect of drug use and it may also manifest the habit as a side-effect of digestive problems.
Sleep Disorders: Sleeping disorders are found to be related to teeth grinding. It is believed that people who are found to be suffering from different kinds of sleep disorders are at a higher risk of developing the habit.
Effect of Lifestyle: A number of lifestyle practices are believed to bring about grinding teeth habits to people. Examples of these activities include: alcoholism, increased intake of caffeinated drinks and excessive smoking. Another lifestyle habit that contributes to the likelihood of teeth grinding is recreational drug use. Drugs such as MDMA and other stimulants can lead to excessive grinding of the teeth. These types of drugs speed up activity in your central nervous system, causing an adrenaline rush. This excess of adrenaline makes you grind your teeth or bite your tongue and because the drugs act as a low-level anesthetic you often don’t realize the damage you’re causing.
Malocclusion or Uneven Bite: When a patient loses a tooth or a few teeth, changes occur in the mouth of the patient such as migration of the teeth to a position that gives them an uneven bite. Malocclusion affects the joints that control the movements of the jaw and these series of events are often believed to cause teeth grinding in some people. An uneven bite destabilizes the occlusion of the jaw, bringing considerable stress that causes bruxism.
Looking at the root of the problem is essential because it gives you a better picture of the condition. When you know what is causing it, problem elimination achieves a higher success rate. This is true for all kinds of medical conditions and this is true for bruxism. Once you’ve ascertained why you might be grinding your teeth, you can ascertain the appropriate treatment and start protecting your teeth from any further damage.
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