How To Stop Grinding Teeth?

May 2, 2024 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

If you’ve ever woken with a sore jaw, unexplained headaches, or chipped teeth, you might be grinding your teeth. This common problem, known as bruxism, can wreak havoc on your smile and overall well-being. Whether it happens during the day due to stress or while you sleep, it’s important to understand why grinding occurs and how to break the habit.

Below is helpful information about the causes of teeth grinding and the steps you can take to protect your smile and find relief.

What is Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)?

Teeth grinding (medically known as “bruxism”) refers to the involuntary clenching, grinding, or gnashing of the teeth. It can happen either while you’re awake or asleep and affects a significant portion of the population. There are two main types:

  • Awake Bruxism: This usually stems from stress, anxiety, or intense concentration. You might clench your jaw or grind your teeth throughout the day without even being fully aware of it.
  • Sleep Bruxism: With this type, the grinding occurs during sleep—making it more difficult to control. You might be unaware of the problem unless a partner complains about the noise, or you notice the after-effects.

Regardless of the type, bruxism can lead to several unpleasant and potentially harmful symptoms:

  • Worn-down teeth: Chronic grinding flattens and erodes your tooth enamel, making teeth more sensitive and prone to breakage.
  • Jaw pain, headaches, and earaches: The constant strain on jaw muscles can lead to soreness, clicking, restricted jaw movement, and pain that radiates to the face, head, or ears.
  • Tooth Sensitivity: As enamel weakens, your teeth might become increasingly sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks.

Why Do I Grind My Teeth?

Unfortunately, there isn’t always a single, easy answer to this question. Teeth grinding often results from a combination of factors, making it important to seek professional help for a proper diagnosis. Here are some of the most common culprits:

Stress and Anxiety

This is perhaps the biggest contributor to both awake and sleep bruxism. When we feel overwhelmed, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, which can manifest as teeth clenching and grinding.

Medical Conditions

Sleep disorders like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing during sleep) are frequently linked to sleep bruxism. Additionally, certain medications (like some antidepressants) and conditions such as acid reflux can sometimes play a role.

Other Factors

The following might also contribute to teeth grinding:

  • Misaligned teeth or bite problems: When your bite doesn’t fit together properly, your jaw muscles may overcompensate, leading to grinding.
  • Diet: Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption can increase bruxism.
  • Personality traits: People who are hyperactive, competitive, or have more obsessive tendencies might be at a higher risk.

It’s essential to note that even children can experience bruxism. While it’s often linked to growth and development or simply a phase they outgrow, checking with a pediatric dentist is important to rule out underlying causes.

The Harmful Effects of Teeth Grinding

Ignoring teeth grinding can lead to a cascade of problems, affecting not only your oral health but your overall well-being. Here’s a breakdown of some serious consequences:

  • Fractured Teeth: The relentless force of grinding weakens your teeth, making them susceptible to chips, cracks, or even breaks. This is especially worrisome if you have existing fillings, crowns, or other dental work, as these are more prone to damage.
  • Jaw Problems: Bruxism places excessive strain on your jaw joints (TMJ). This can lead to persistent soreness, clicking, popping, and pain in the jaw, face, and ears. In severe cases, it might develop into a full-blown TMJ disorder, causing difficulty opening your mouth, headaches, and chronic pain.
  • Other Concerns: Beyond dental and jaw issues, bruxism can also lead to frequent headaches stemming from muscle tension, worn-down tooth enamel resulting in heightened sensitivity, and loosening of dental work like fillings or crowns.

The negative impact doesn’t stop at physical discomfort. Costly dental procedures to repair damaged teeth, ongoing TMJ treatment, and even sleep disruptions can significantly affect your quality of life and finances. Addressing bruxism early is crucial to prevent these long-term complications.

How to Stop Teeth Grinding

Now that you understand the causes and consequences of bruxism, let’s discuss solutions.

Since bruxism is often multifaceted, finding the right treatment plan might require some trial and error and the guidance of your dentist or doctor. A key starting point is addressing stress. Healthy stress management techniques like regular exercise, relaxation practices (e.g., meditation, yoga), or therapy can significantly reduce both awake and sleep bruxism. Another vital tool is a custom-fitted mouthguard. These specially-made devices protect your teeth from the damaging effects of grinding while you sleep. While they can’t stop the grinding itself, they offer a significant layer of protection.

If you suspect your bite is out of alignment, your dentist can evaluate the situation and suggest orthodontic treatment or tooth adjustments to create a more harmonious bite. In certain cases, discussing potential medication changes with your doctor might be beneficial, especially if your current medication is thought to worsen bruxism. For awake bruxism, practicing mindfulness, setting reminders to relax your jaw, and avoiding chewing on non-food items like pens or fingernails can make a difference.

The Path to a Grind-Free Smile

Teeth grinding is a frustrating and potentially damaging problem, but it’s important to remember that it’s often treatable. By understanding the factors behind your teeth grinding, you can work with your dentist to develop a personalized management plan. Whether it involves stress reduction, mouthguards, dental treatments, or even behavioral changes, there are solutions to protect your precious smile.

Don’t underestimate the negative impact bruxism can have on your teeth, jaw health, and overall well-being. If you suspect grinding is an issue for you, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. With the right support and a proactive approach, you can break the harmful grinding cycle and regain a healthy, pain-free smile.

Smile Smarter,
Dr. Joyce

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