Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a condition where a person will clench their jaw or slide their teeth back and forth over one another, typically at night. This can be caused by stress and anxiety, sleep disorders, an abnormal bite, or crooked teeth. Many people aren’t aware they grind their teeth, where others experience the symptoms severely. A person who grinds their teeth may have symptoms such as dull headaches, jaw soreness, earaches, teeth that are painful or loose, or even fractured.
Grinding teeth is often thought to be an adult phenomenon, but is actually common in children as well. Reasons children may grind their teeth include, oral irritation, allergies, or misaligned teeth. Because children’s teeth and jaws are still developing, bruxism in children is usually not damaging and does not require treatment. Most children will outgrow it by or during adolescence.
On the other hand, adults who grind their teeth in their sleep may encounter problems. While people subconsciously grind and clench both during the daytime and at night, bruxism that is sleep-related is often the greater problem simply because it is more difficult to control. Bruxism puts stress on all of the muscles, tissues, and structures around the jaw. This pressure can cause joint problems in the jaw. Grinding also can wear down a person’s teeth and even be so hard on the teeth as to fracture them. Chronic grinders can wear their teeth down almost to stumps.
If stress is the cause of your bruxism, try relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing and meditation. Massaging the muscles of the jaw, neck, and shoulders can also be beneficial. Working on relaxing your face throughout the day can help you make facial relaxation a habit. Stay away from eating hard foods such as nuts, or hard candies, especially before bed and try applying heat to the jaw muscles before bed. If the grinding is severe, ask your dentist to provide a mouth guard so that your teeth are protected during sleep.
Bruxism is not an extremely dangerous disorder, but can cause lasting damage to the teeth as well as chronic jaw pain, headaches, or ear pain. If you have some of these symptoms, you should talk to your dentist about teeth grinding and try to pin down the cause of the bruxism and alleviate it as soon as possible.