Avoiding the Wear and Tear of Your Teeth
Ever found yourself rubbing a tender jaw or nursing a throbbing headache as the rooster crows? If so, the root of your discomfort might be more common than you'd think.
You could very well be in the company of 8% of adults or around 15% to 33% of children who habitually grind their teeth in their sleep. This little night-time routine has a name - it's called bruxism. It might not seem like much more than an odd habit, but the truth is, it could be a red flag for more significant health issues. So, stick around! We're about to unmask the hidden world of teeth grinding, break down its effects and hand you the tools to curb it once and for all.
What is Teeth Grinding?
Picture this: you're in the land of dreams, utterly unaware, while your teeth are having a party, grinding and clenching all night; this is the unseen world of bruxism (AKA teeth grinding). A world where the dance floor is your mouth and the DJ's tracks are the sounds of your teeth rubbing together. The aftermath? A sore jaw, a bit of tooth sensitivity and a sleep that's anything but peaceful. It might seem like a quirky, harmless habit, but let's not be fooled. Over time, this teeth-grinding can throw a real spanner in the works of your oral health and your health as a whole! And while bruxism doesn't discriminate, it has a particular fondness for adults between 25 to 44 years old, especially here in the good old U.S. of A.
Delving into the Dark: Hidden Causes of Teeth Grinding
Surprisingly, when it comes to teeth grinding, stress and anxiety are often the first culprits! When I heard that, I struggled to believe it, but it’s the truth! However, they're just part of the picture. Surprisingly, sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by intermittent interruptions in breathing during sleep, has been identified as a significant cause of bruxism1.
Several lesser-known factors can contribute to teeth grinding:
- Sleep disorders: Conditions like sleep apnea can lead to teeth grinding during sleep.
- Medications: Certain medications, particularly antidepressants, can induce it.
- Lifestyle factors: Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine or tobacco can increase the risk of bruxism.
- Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to grinding their teeth.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Lack of certain nutrients, such as magnesium, may contribute to bruxism.
The truth is, the cause of bruxism can vary greatly from person to person - it's a complex and unique condition that can't always be linked to one single factor. It is as unique as you are as a person!
The Real Grind: The Impact of Teeth Grinding
What starts as an occasional grinding of teeth can escalate into a severe issue if left unaddressed, so please don’t ignore it! Persistent teeth grinding can wear down tooth enamel, increase tooth sensitivity and even lead to tooth loss in severe cases. Which just sounds insanely painful to me!
Beyond the oral health issues that can pop up, the stress and discomfort caused by teeth grinding can lead to anxiety, contributing to a vicious cycle of stress. This link between mind and oral health is something I had no idea about until I experienced it personally. So understanding the connection between your mental health and oral habits is key to breaking this cycle.
Unclench and Relax: How to Stop Teeth Grinding
If you're grappling with bruxism, don't stress (because you’ll probably make it worse). Here's the good news: there are numerous ways to manage and even stop it.
First, consider addressing any underlying stress or anxiety. This might involve speaking with a therapist, starting a meditation practice or even just ensuring you're getting enough physical exercise, eating a balanced diet and getting out in nature!
If your teeth grinding is linked to sleep apnea, seeking treatment for the sleep disorder may help alleviate bruxism. Also, a dentist can provide you with a custom-made mouthguard to protect your teeth while you sleep while you work on other contributors to stop the grinding.
Lifestyle changes can also play a massive role in lessening, stopping and preventing it. Try to limit caffeine and alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Establishing a regular sleep pattern and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can also help reduce teeth grinding. That means no more Netflix in bed! You’ll be grateful to put down the remote once you feel the relief and get a restful night's sleep.
What are the Signs of Bruxism?
Below are some signs of bruxism you'll want to look out for:
- Tips of the teeth look flat.
- Extreme sensitivity due to the inside of the tooth (dentin) being exposed from grinding.
- Jaw pain due to popping and clicking of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
- Tongue indentations.
My Personal Story - Teeth Grinding With Children
I have personally experienced teeth grinding in my life with my very own daughter. She has always been a phenomenal sleeper, but when she started kindergarten, something changed. We noticed that alongside an increase in night terrors or nightmares, she started clenching her jaw and grinding her teeth! We had no idea why it was happening or what to do about it! It continued for a few weeks while waiting to see a dentist. To our surprise, the dentist said that so far no damage has been done, but that could change if it continued. He calmed our stress as we thought she would have to start sleeping with a mouthguard or some medieval contraption on her. But his first suggestion was to look into any new stressors in her life. That is when it clicked; she had only just started big kid school!
We realized we missed the signs of the stress of her going to school. Once we knew this, we started to approach drop-offs, homework and lunches (all pain points with school) differently. We started allowing her to have her opinions and ease into big-kid school. As a result, she slowly but surely started to stress less, and her teeth grinding subsided.
Teeth grinding isn't just some harmless, annoying habit that interrupts the sweet symphony of night-time snores. It's a pesky condition that, if swept under the rug, can leave a trail of health problems in its wake. Whether you're the one experiencing it or someone you know (adult or child), getting a handle on the why's and how's of teeth grinding can be a game-changer.
So, if you're feeling a bit alone in this, remember - you're part of a larger chorus. Approximately 8% of middle-aged adults and 15% to 33% of children are right there with you, grinding their way through the night. If you've got a sneaking suspicion that you've joined this not-so-exclusive club, don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional.
After all, sleep should be a peaceful escape, not an undercover dental workout. And who wants to spend their nights grinding away when they could be dreaming? So, here's to putting a full stop to those nightly grind sessions. Sweet dreams!