How to Know If You Grind Your Teeth (And What To Do)
Could you be grinding your teeth without knowing it? Sounds strange, but it’s actually not uncommon. People often clench or grind their teeth without realizing it - both while they’re awake and while they’re asleep. In fact, your teeth should only be touching while you chew, and maybe for a moment when you swallow - if you find they’re touching at other times, you’re clenching!
Clenching or grinding your teeth while sleeping (a.k.a. sleep bruxism) is common, but severe cases and untreated cases can result in damage to your teeth, jaw, and muscles. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize common symptoms and warning signs. This post will help you do just that.
Are You Grinding Your Teeth in Sleep?
If you’re asleep, how will you ever know whether you’re doing it or not? If your case is mild, you might need to see a dentist to know for sure. But people with severe bruxism can have painful symptoms. Here are a few to look out for:
Consistent headaches, particularly near the temporalis muscles on the sides of your head.
Sore jaw muscles or sore teeth, especially in the morning.
Teeth that feel flatter or less sharp.
Broken or dislodged dental restorations (like fillings and crowns).
Teeth that are more sensitive to heat, cold, or sweet things.
Sores on the inside of your cheek from chewing.
Anxiety or feelings of tension at night.
Most people have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In fact, many people only learn they grind their teeth when their dentist notices signs, or a partner, roommate, sibling, or someone else who sleeps nearby tells them. If you share a bedroom, it’s worth asking if the other person has noticed anything.
Now the obvious question is, what causes sleep bruxism? In other words, why do some people grind their teeth and others don’t?
Why Do People Grind Their Teeth?
Our bodies are complicated, and each case is different. There doesn’t seem to be just one cause for everyone. Usually it’s related to some kind of stress or tension, or it’s your body’s subconscious attempt to find a comfortable biting position if you have a bad bite and your teeth don’t fit together properly.
Let’s get more specific. Here are some of the most common reasons for teeth grinding:
Abnormal bite or misaligned teeth.
Anxiety and stress.
A response to chronic physical pain.
Bad posture or muscular problems with the head, neck, or back.
Sleep disorders (like sleep apnea).
Some medications (like certain antidepressants).
People with TMJ disorders also often have problems with jaw clenching or grinding at night. The two conditions frequently go together, though it can be hard to tell which came first, the clenching or the TMJ problem.
See your dentist if you have jaw pain or suspect you might be grinding your teeth. They’ll know what to look for and might be able to identify what’s causing it.
What Happens if You Don’t Get Treatment?
Severe sleep bruxism that isn’t treated can damage your body over time and affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Too much teeth grinding can lead to:
Wearing down of your teeth over time.
Cracked or broken teeth.
Too much stress on jaw joint and muscles.
Chronic headaches, jaw pain, or other TMJ symptoms.
Trouble sleeping due to pain or tension.
What to Do?
Once you know you’re doing it, how do you stop grinding your teeth?
The first step is to see your dentist and get fitted for a night guard. No matter what’s causing the grinding, a night guard will protect your teeth from getting damaged. I recommend you get one as soon as you can -- it’ll keep your teeth healthy while you explore other treatment options.
Your dentist has seen many, many patients who grind their teeth. Even if your grinding isn’t caused by dental problems, they may be able to make a recommendation, or refer you to another specialist.
Teeth grinding can be caused by so many different things. Depending on your symptoms, the possible causes, and your goals, treatment options can be tailored to you and your specific needs.
Once you talk to your dentist about the root of your teeth grinding, you’ll be able to narrow down those options and find what works for you.
Here’s a preview of what you can expect:
If you have a bad bite…
Depending on your individual bite, your budget, and other lifestyle factors, your dentist may recommend something as simple as a night guard or as complex as orthodontic work or crowns to change the shape of your teeth to improve your bite.
The thing to keep in mind here is there are options for improving your bite, if that’s the cause of your grinding. Some options are simple, others are more of a commitment, so talk it over with your dentist, and seek a second opinion if you’re not comfortable with the options you’re given.
If you’ve been dealing with stress or anxiety...
One way to decrease stress is simply to get more exercise. Go running or walking a few times a week. Many people say swimming is an especially good stress reliever. Meditation is becoming very popular as a simple, daily practice to reduce overall stress levels. Stress counselling and therapy can also be very helpful.
Several of my patients tell me that massage (even targeted jaw- and facial-muscle treatments) and chiropractics works really well to relieve symptoms of bruxism and TMJ disorders.
You can also ask your doctor about anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy if you feel stress has taken a physical toll on your health.
If it’s a sleep disorder...
If you’re having insomnia or other sleep disturbances as well as grinding, see your doctor, or even a sleep specialist, to discuss your options. There are many great treatment options for sleep disorders these days.
I know it’s a hassle, but try to be consistent about wearing your night guard.
Cut back on caffeine (coffee, tea, caffeinated soda, chocolate). Caffeine makes it harder for your muscles to relax.
Lower your alcohol intake, especially right before bed. It can make grinding worse.
Chew less gum. It gets your jaw muscles used to clenching and it’s bad for anyone with jaw pain or jaw-related headaches.
Practice relaxing your jaw during the day. Try to train yourself.
A Word of Encouragement
Many people have trouble with jaw clenching or grinding teeth while sleeping at some point in their lives. If you’re struggling with it now, that doesn’t mean it’s something you’re stuck with forever.
Remember, no matter what’s causing your teeth grinding, a night guard will protect your teeth, your jaw, and can even help stop your headaches.
Your dentist can make one that fits your mouth perfectly, so it will be more effective and comfortable than what you’ll find at the store. It’s a simple process to have a guard custom made, and there are lots of different guard designs so you can find the one that will work best for you.
If you want to get to the bottom of your uncomfortable teeth grinding and protect your mouth with a custom night guard in the meantime, I’m happy to help.
Call 540-432-9992 today!