Grinding your teeth during sleep can lead to serious problems in the future. But if you’re grinding at night, you may not even be aware that it’s happening. Here are some tips for determining whether you’re a nighttime teeth grinder, along with ways your dentist can help. Like so many elements of good oral care, prevention is key!
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the official term for excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching, and it’s a bigger problem than you might think. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) survey shows that between 8 and 16 percent of adults grind their teeth. According to the NIH, nighttime grinding is now considered a sleep disorder, one that is also related to other sleep disorders.
What Causes Teeth Grinding at Night?
Stress and anxiety can be big factors in night bruxism. When we’re stressed, we tend to clench our jaws and grind our teeth–often without even knowing it. Grinding can also result from problems with your bite, and missing or crooked teeth, which throw off alignment.
Teeth grinding is also increasingly linked to sleep disorders. NIH studies suggest that the physical/neurological processes related to disruption of sleep may trigger teeth grinding. Sleep apnea, with its periods of wakefulness during the night, is the sleep disorder most linked to bruxism. But teeth grinding is also connected to other sleep disorders, such as Restless Legs Syndrome. Certain medications can also cause teeth grinding, so be sure to let your dentist know when you start a new medication.
Bruxism can occur in both children and adults. Most commonly, we see it in adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. After the age of 60, the rate of bruxism tends to decline.
How Can I Tell If I’m Grinding My Teeth At Night
If teeth grinding happens at night, you may not be aware that you’re doing it right away. But there a few important signs you can look for, including headaches, sore jaw, and earaches. If you routinely wake up suffering from any of those signs, inform your dentist immediately.
Your dentist is also on the lookout for signs of teeth grinding, including wear on teeth, loose or broken teeth and jaw disorders like TMJ. Finally, check with your spouse or family members if you think you’re grinding your teeth during sleep. They are often the first to notice and can help you take the first steps in seeking treatment.
How Can I Relax My Jaw During Sleep?
There are a few basic practices you can start in the daytime that can help prevent teeth grinding at night. One step is to make a point of relaxing your jaw during the day. If you notice yourself clenching your teeth, make an effort to stop and relax. Working on this habit while awake may help change your pattern during sleep. Also, avoid excessive gum chewing during the day.
Experts recommend drinking plenty of water and reducing or eliminating alcohol and caffeine. We also strongly recommend quitting smoking. In addition to its many other negative effects on dental health, NIH studies show that smokers are far more likely to grind their teeth than non-smokers.
There are simple exercises that can help you relax your jaw, relieve pain and prevent clenching. Your dentist can help you find techniques that will work for you or refer to other specialists who can help.
Preventing Teeth Grinding With Mouthguards
The most effective way to prevent problems related to teeth grinding is a custom mouthguard made by your dentist.
Nighttime mouthguards are designed by your dentist to fit your teeth perfectly and absorb the shock that grinding puts on your teeth, preventing both wear and tear and stress on the jaw. Your dentist will take an impression of your teeth and create a mold, then order a custom mouthguard made of a soft laminate (layered plastic) or hard acrylic, depending on your needs. Your dentist will then check the fit of the mouthguard in the office and make sure the guard is ready to do its job.
Mouthguards are also increasingly recommended as a treatment for sleep apnea. Special mouthguards called Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) bring the lower jaw forward and open obstructed airways, eliminating the need for intrusive CPAP machines in some cases. Mouthguards not only prevent teeth grinding, but they can also help prevent the underlying sleep issue that may be at the root of your bruxism.
Your Dentist Is Your Partner In Preventing Teeth Grinding
If you think you may be grinding your teeth while you sleep, the first step is scheduling an exam with your dentist. At Hall and Butterfield, we’ll look for the common signs mentioned above and talk about steps you can take to break bad habits, sleep easier and protect your teeth. Call us today to book your appointment!