When you clench and grind your teeth involuntarily in response to anger, fear, or stress, it’s called bruxism. Some people do this repeatedly throughout the day, even if they aren’t feeling any immediate stressors. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, can occur during the day or at night, during sleep.
The primary difficulty with sleep bruxism is that those who grind their teeth at night are mostly unaware of the problem. Additionally, when asleep, a person doesn’t realise the bite strength and unknowingly clenches and grinds harder, employing up to 250 pounds of force.
Teeth grinding can have detrimental long-term effects on dental health and requires medical attention.
Is it common to grind teeth?
Both children and adults can suffer from bruxism. Approximately half the population experiences it to some degree at one point or another. Around 5% of people deal with regular and forceful tooth grinding daily.
There is a wide range of statistics when it comes to sleep bruxism in children. Some studies have found that around 49.6% of children experience nighttime teeth grinding. This can affect infants and toddlers as soon as they get their first tooth.
Another research shared that around 15% of adolescents, 8% of middle-aged adults, and 3% of older adults grind their teeth during sleep.
What causes teeth grinding (bruxism)?
While the root cause of sleep bruxism is not fully understood, certain risk factors have been linked to the increased odds of teeth grinding at night.
Stress is a significant risk factor for teeth grinding. Teeth clenching in response to a negative situation is common, and this can lead to episodes of sleep bruxism (teeth grinding during sleep). Anxiety levels are believed to be higher in people who grind their teeth.
After studying sleep bruxism, researchers have discovered that it can be genetically passed down through families. As many as half of people who suffer from sleep bruxism will have a close relative with the condition.
Disturbed sleep pattern
Research suggests that episodes of teeth grinding are associated with disruptions in sleep patterns or microarousals from sleep. Most teeth-grinding events seem to be preceded by an increase in brain and cardiovascular activity. This may help explain the association that has been found between sleep bruxism and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is characterised by temporary interruptions in breathing during sleep.
Nicotine has been proven to stimulate acetylcholine and glutamate synaptic transmission while also increasing dopamine release. This may play a role in bruxism or teeth grinding. The stronger the habit of smoking (and thus, the higher levels of nicotine and dopamine), the greater the risk for bruxism.
Certain prescription medicines
Several anti-depressants and psychiatric medications are common causes of bruxism. These drugs work by affecting the central nervous system, and as a side effect, patients may begin grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw muscles.
What are the teeth-grinding symptoms?
People who suffer from sleep bruxism don’t constantly grind their teeth at night. Instead, they periodically have episodes of clenching and grinding, which could number from a few to one hundred per night. Teeth-grinding episodes may not happen every night, and their frequency is unpredictable.
Although atypical mouth movements during sleep are common (affecting up to 60% of people), those with sleep bruxism experience them more frequently and forcefully.
Most episodes occur early in the sleep cycle, during stages 1 and 2 of non-REM sleep, but a small percentage can happen during REM sleep as well.
Since there are so many factors involved in causing bruxism, it is not easy to self-diagnose yourself. A qualified sleep dentist will examine and confirm whether or not you are suffering from bruxism. Meanwhile, you can keep track of specific symptoms to share with your sleep dentist.
Apart from grinding your teeth and clenching the jaw, some other symptoms to look for are
- Persistent pain in the neck, face and shoulders.
- A painful jaw that makes clicking sounds when chewing.
- Cracked, broken or loose teeth.
- Loss of fillings and damaged dental appliances.
- Feeling your head heavy in the morning.
- Earache while chewing or swallowing.
- Frequently waking up during the night.
- Unexplained damage to the teeth.
- Teeth grinding sounds that are loud enough to wake up your partner.
What are the long-term effects of sleep bruxism?
If left unchecked, sleep bruxism can lead to serious oral health problems, including pain and damage to teeth, gums, and other dental work.
It can result in damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is the joint connecting the lower jaw and skull. This can lead to many issues, including pain while chewing, chronic jaw pain, clicking or popping noises when moving the mouth, locking of the jaw, and other difficulties.
The effects of sleep bruxism depend on the severity of grinding, as well as a person’s teeth alignment, diet, and whether they have other conditions that can affect the teeth.
Not only does teeth grinding at night impact the person doing it, but it can also bother a bed partner. The noise from clenching and grinding can get in the way of sleep, making it harder for someone sharing the bed to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.
How to stop teeth grinding?
While only a certified sleep dentist can recommend proper treatment for bruxism and control tooth damage, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to lessen the frequency of teeth grinding episodes.
- Try to find ways to relax, such as doing breathing exercises, listening to music or going for a walk.
- To improve your sleep, establish a bedtime routine and make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Going to bed at the same time each night will help train your body to fall asleep more easily.
- If you’re experiencing pain or swelling in your jaw, consider taking over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- By using an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel for 20 to 30 minutes, you can help reduce jaw joint pain or swelling.
- Schedule regular dental check-ups to maintain good oral health.
Are you suffering from involuntary teeth grinding?
At Melbourne Dental Sleep Clinic, our experienced and friendly dentist can provide you with a comprehensive assessment of your teeth to check for signs of teeth grinding and offer advice and the treatment that best suits your needs. Contact us to book your appointment today.
Bruxism is associated with nicotine dependence
Dental health and teeth grinding
Bruxism ( teeth grinding)