You may be unaware that you are grinding your teeth because you do it while you’re asleep. But your dentist can tell, from the damage that tooth grinding can cause to your teeth.
Signs of tooth grinding include:
• Worn-away enamel on the tooth surfaces that touch
• Tooth cracks or chips, or fractured or crooked teeth
• Loose teeth
• Tired, tight or sore jaw muscles, or pain that feels like an earache
Known in medical terminology as “bruxism,” tooth grinding or jaw clenching can also have other signs and symptoms including noise from the grinding that could be quite loud, sleep disruption, damage to the inside of the cheek from chewing, and dull headaches.
Tooth grinding can also occur when awake, as a bad habit caused by stress, tension, anger, or deep concentration. You may catch yourself clenching your jaw muscles or rubbing your teeth together as a coping mechanism.
Surprisingly, tooth grinding tends to run in families. And it is more prevalent in children than in adults, with the American Dental Association reporting only about 10-15% of adults suffering from the condition. If someone else in your family grinds their teeth, check with your dentist to see if you exhibit symptoms or signs as well.
Most of the time the problems caused by grinding are not serious. But if done more severely, it can lead to wearing the teeth down to a stump; the requirement of crowns, bridges, root canals, implants or dentures; headaches; severe facial or jaw pain; or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems, like clicking in the ears when opening or closing the mouth. Chronic jaw clenching can even alter the shape of your face.
Ways to stop or lessen tooth grinding include:
• Holding a warm compress against the face just in front of the earlobe
• Conscious awareness and retraining when you catch yourself clenching or grinding
• Restricted caffeine and alcohol intake (it can make grinding worsen)
• Check of certain medications, like antidepressants that can contribute to tooth grinding
• Avoidance of chewing gum or chewing on objects such as a pencil
• Increased overall exercise, and stretching of the jaw by opening wide
• Night guards
Dental Night Guards
Many dentists recommend a dental night guard to help prevent tooth grinding. Generally made of a hard acrylic or plastic, the night guard offers a protective barrier between the upper and lower sets of teeth.
Your dentist will take a dental putty mold impression of your teeth and create a custom night guard that slips over your upper or lower teeth snugly like a glove. Most of the time, one night guard is created for the upper teeth only. You will be instructed to install this dental appliance by snapping it onto the teeth after your nightly brushing and flossing routine, and to wear it while sleeping.
Primarily, the night guard is meant to prevent your upper and lower teeth from touching. It can also act as a buffer to lessen pain and stress from clenching the jaw muscles. It will not stop you from grinding or clenching; its purpose is to protect your teeth, relax the muscles, and most importantly, protect your TMJ. A proper fit will prevent your night guard from causing additional problems such as jaw misalignment and ensure that it stays in place while you sleep.
You will want to pay attention to sanitary practices. Clean your night guard every morning when you remove it by rinsing it in warm water. You may want to run your toothbrush over it as well, but avoid using toothpaste that can scratch its surface. Store it in a safe, dry location, preferably in its hard case away from the bathroom where heat and humidity can cause it to warp. A nightstand is a more ideal storage area.
Make sure to bring your night guard to your regular dental checkup appointment. Your dentist will make sure that your night guard is working well for you and also clean it in the ultrasonic machine. Your custom night guard will also last you quite a long time, up to 10 years or more.
Night Guards from EverSmile Dentistry
The next time you’re in our office at EverSmile Dentistry, we can check to see if we spot any damage from tooth grinding or jaw clenching. We can also fit you with a custom night guard.
As a family dentist, EverSmile Dentistry sees patients at ages from children through seniors, and it is our goal to provide good dental health and preventive dentistry at any age so that your teeth will last you a lifetime. We offer a full range of dental services, along with convenient payment options. If you’re located in Northern Virginia, please make us your family dentist. Contact us today to set your next dental appointment.