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.
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.