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Why do People Grind Teeth?

Teeth grinding may cause severe jaw pain.
Tooth grinding can wear down the enamel.
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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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Bruxism is the medical term used to refer to people who habitually grind teeth or clench their jaw. However, most “bruxers” are completely unaware of the fact that they grind teeth at all simply because they do it while sleeping at night. In fact, the behavior usually comes to light after being observed by a sleep partner or other household member. There are telltale clues that a dentist may notice upon inspection of the mouth, such as abnormal wearing down of the teeth.

There are many reasons to account for why a person might grind teeth. However, it seems that stress and anxiety are the major culprits. Many people work out their frustrations by working their jaw while asleep, perhaps in response to dreaming or in an attempt to model a conversation held earlier in the day. In fact, people who tend to talk in their sleep may be prone to grind teeth as well.

The second most common reason for tooth grinding is having an abnormal bite. This situation might be blamed on crooked or missing teeth, or even an active cavity or abscess. Dental appliances may play a role too. For example, wearing full or partial dentures to bed could cause minor irritation that is resolved by tooth grinding.

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Certain medical conditions can also create an urge to grind teeth while asleep. For example, studies have shown that bruxism is more common in people who suffer from sleep apnea. Involuntary movements experienced with Parkinson’s disease may also contribute to this condition. Studies have also shown that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) taken for depression may also lead to involuntary movements since they stimulate the central nervous system. In addition, consuming alcohol or caffeine before retiring can also encourage random muscle activity.

Finally, sleep position may be at the root of the problem. People who sleep on their stomach or side are more inclined to grind teeth than back sleepers. So, simply changing positions or even moving to the other side of the mattress may help to put bruxism to bed.

Obviously, tooth grinding is not a particularly attractive or desirable habit. To make matters worse, this activity can cause significant damage to teeth. In addition to wearing them down, it may promote bone loss and eventually cause teeth to fall out. Bruxism can also lead to secondary conditions, such as Tempromandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome or Myofacial Pain Dysorders (MPD). In rare cases, it can even lead to permanent hearing loss.

Stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, may help to combat nighttime tooth grinding. For some people, cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful. Others respond best to clenching suppression devices. However, while it might be tempting to run out for an over-the-counter night guard, don’t. An improperly fitted night guard can cause more harm than good. If a night guard becomes necessary, it would be best to visit a dentist to obtain a customized fit.

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GlassAxe
Post 3

@ Alchemy- I would try things to reduce stress for the first couple of months, i.e. no coffee after 4pm, give yourself a day off, increased exercise, etc. If this does not work, you may need to resort to buying a mouth guard from your dentist.

Night guards for teeth grinding are not cheap, running approximately $400 to $700, but they can save you thousands (and your teeth) in the long run. I would always get a second opinion when purchasing a non-refundable device like a mouth guard, and I would see a dentist that specializes in TMJ and bruxism. It takes about a week to get used to the guards, but once you get used to them, they work quite well. Most of the guards on the market today are slim, and made of a hard plastic like material, so you will not have to worry about them being too bulky or smelling bad after prolonged use. Hope this helps.

Alchemy
Post 2

Does anyone know how to stop grinding teeth? My fiancée said that she witnessed me grinding my teeth on more than one occasion. I don't have dental insurance so I can't really afford to deal with future tooth problems, so I would like to stop grinding my teeth.

Comparables
Post 1

I have been grinding and clenching my teeth for years, but never knew about it until I saw a doctor for recurring jaw pain. The doctor told me that I have TMJ and it is likely the result of the clenching and grinding of my teeth. The doctor sent me to my dentist, who confirmed my tooth grinding. I also needed two root canals, with two more to come in the near future. My dentist said that my tooth grinding had caused my teeth to crack, exposing the nerve. I will likely need to have dental implants for a couple of teeth because they will end up cracking down to the root, and need to be extracted (Unless I can fork over thousands of dollars for multiple root canals).

My tooth grinding was mostly due to stress, and the result is more stress. I have made lifestyle changes to help deal with stress, so the tooth grinding has mostly stopped, but the damage has been done. I wish I would have known I was grinding my teeth sooner.

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