When asked about teeth grinding, most patients will emphatically say that they do not grind their teeth or simply that they don’t know if they do. Since teeth grinding mostly happens at night during sleep, it’s hard for people to realize that they do it, unless someone sleeping next to them can actually hear them clanking their teeth.
In our office, we can tell if you are grinding by looking at your teeth and searching for telltale signs, like flattened or ragged tooth edges or a history of constant chipping of the front teeth. The technical term for grinding of the teeth is bruxism, and is more common than you would think. The causes of bruxism are not yet entirely clear, but it is thought to be caused by stress, and influenced by numerous other factors such as diet or even genetics. It’s a subconscious process, and as such you really have no control over it.
The effects of bruxism can be very damaging. The constant rubbing of teeth together from side to side, back and forth over an extended period of time will cause the wear and progressive deterioration of the tooth, first by breaking down the protective enamel layer (enamel is the hardest substance in our bodies), then by wearing down the softer dentin layer. Once the outer enamel layer is gone, the abrasion caused by brushing and other habits can compound the effect.
Grinding your teeth from side to side is only part of the problem. There’s also clenching. This is the act of putting your teeth together and tightening the bite. The forces exerted on the teeth cause them to start bending or flexing (at a microscopic level), and the failure occurs at the ‘neck’ of the tooth, what we call the cervical area or the gumline. The result is what we call abfractions, which are indents or notches along the gumline of a tooth, where the bending occurs.
There’s no cure for bruxism, and although there are medications to manage a stressful lifestyle, they do not necessarily make you stop grinding. You could try yoga or go to therapy, but the truth is that you will likely keep grinding your teeth away.
What we can do is minimize the effects of grinding on your teeth. By wearing an occlusal guard or nightguard while you sleep, we create a sort of cushion between your upper and lower jaws, reducing the damaging effects of grinding and clenching. The idea is to slow down the wear and tear on your teeth caused by nightly teeth grinding, and thus giving your teeth a chance to be healthier for longer.