You may not be familiar with the term “bruxism”, but you’re undoubtedly familiar with the behavior. Bruxism is the grinding, gnashing, or clenching of teeth. Many of us do it without even realizing; in fact, a lot of people do it in their sleep, which is called sleep bruxism.
Regardless of whether you know the name, it’s important to understand the consequences of bruxism and how it can impact your dental health. Bruxers are found everywhere, and while there’s no real cure, there are ways of preventing teeth grinding.
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is a broad term used to encompass a number of behaviors, including gnashing, grinding, clenching, or gritting of teeth.
Teeth grinding causes may include anything from high stress to abnormal bite to crooked teeth. If bruxism doesn’t sound serious, consider this: the masseter, the cheek muscle that helps us chew, is one of the strongest muscles in the entire body. Dental researchers say it can exert up to 600 pounds of force per square inch on the molars in the rear of our mouths. It’s a strong muscle and can have a big impact on jaw and mouth health.
Bruxism is occasionally a complication of another condition. A handful of medications, such as certain anti-anxiety pills, for instance, have side effects that include jaw clenching or teeth gnashing.
Is Teeth Grinding Harmful?
There’s no doubt that there can be harmful effects of teeth grinding. Here’s a look at the potential consequences:
Teeth Grinding Effects
Teeth grinding effects can range from mild annoyances to serious problems that require a dental professional’s attention. The big concern among dentists is bruxism’s cumulative effect: It’s not one day of clenching or gnashing that’s the problem, it’s the years of this behavior that wear down your teeth, sparking the need for serious dental treatment. Side effects include:
- Loosening teeth from the gums
- Losing teeth
- Fracturing teeth
- Wearing away teeth and enamel
- Receding gums
- Aching jaws
- Recurring headaches
- Tooth pain
- Developing jaw joint disorders
Teeth grinding occurs frequently during sleep, and there are a number of sleep conditions tied to this behavior, including sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder in which sleep is disrupted by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths. The pauses can last more than a minute, and they’re usually followed by a choking sound. The condition is under-diagnosed, because many people don’t realize they have the problem.
Teeth and Jaw Clenching
Teeth clenching and jaw clenching occur when you hold your mouth tightly in the same position, and it can have an ill effect on the jaw muscles. They become sore and tired from overuse, and disorders can arise from long-term clenching. Teeth and jaw clenchers often develop chronic headaches because of the tension in the jaw.
Clenching is most often associated with stress, but it can also be exacerbated by habitual chewing on other things, including gum, pencils, or pens. Bruxers are encouraged to avoid chewing gum or becoming otherwise orally fixated on an object that will worsen their symptoms.