How Dangerous is Tooth Grinding?

Oral Health News from Dr. Carol Ford, Phoenix Cosmetic Dentist

“Your teeth should never touch unless you are eating,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix office. “To someone who grinds their teeth, this sounds odd, because their teeth are in contact, often with pressure, most of the time.”

Most people grind their teeth occasionally—when they are anxious, feel stress, haven’t slept well. Some medications and sleep disturbances can also cause clenching or gnashing of teeth. Gritting teeth is called bruxism, and it comes from the Greek word meaning “to grind.” Grinding is a side-to-side motion and clenching is clamping the teeth together with some force. Both are considered bruxism.

According to the website, YourDentistryGuide, “If bruxing persists, as it does in an estimated 20 percent of the population during waking hours and 8 percent during sleep, it can have a negative effect on tooth enamel, bone, gums and the jaw.”

Grinding exerts a lot of pressure on teeth. Nighttime grinding can exert 250 pounds of force per square inch, enough force to crack a walnut.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most grinding starts early in life and diminishes as we get older. But those intervening years of grinding and clenching can cause a great deal of damage:

  • Damage to your teeth (including fillings and crowns)
  • Tension-type headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Temporomandibular disorders — which occur in the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), located just in front of your ears and felt when opening and closing your mouth

“It’s smart to see your dentist before the damage gets advanced,” says Dr. Ford. You can expect your dentist to ask you questions about any medication you take, your sleep habits, and your stressors.

If your dentist suspects a high stress level or a sleep disorder, you may be referred to a sleep specialist or therapist.

If your teeth are moving, or damaged, you may have to see an orthodontist or repair your teeth with veneers.

For minor grinding, your dentist will fit you with a custom splint or mouth guard. A splint is a hard acrylic appliance that fits over your front teeth and keeps your teeth from touching—avoiding damage.

A custom mouth guard is a softer plastic that fits over your bottom teeth and acts as adental_mouth_guard cushion to even out the pressure from grinding.

“Mouth guards are not a long-term answer to tooth grinding,” says Dr. Ford, “but they may keep teeth from serious damage while the underlying causes are found and addressed.”

If you are waking up with headaches, jaw aches, or sensitive teeth. If you find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth during the day, see your dentist. It’s easiest to address when you discover it, before it becomes a damaging habit.



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