Grinding your teeth? Here’s why and what you can do about it
Most of us clench our jaw at times — but once biting down hard becomes a habit, it can lead to dental health issues. Fortunately, there are ways to stop it.
If you wake up with a sore jaw or find yourself gnashing your pearly whites when you’re stressed, you might be one of many Australians who suffer from bruxism — the involuntary grinding of your teeth, which can cause long-term damage.
Teeth grinding: the facts
Bruxism is a very common problem.
According to Oral Medicine Specialist Associate Professor Ramesh Balasubramaniam, it’s found in all ages.
“Sleep clenching and grinding affect 14 to 46 per cent of children, adolescents and adults, and three per cent of the elderly,” Prof Balasubramaniam, bruxism spokesman of the Australian Dental Association, explains.
The problem is it can cause all kinds of oral and other health issues.
“From a dental perspective, it can chip and crack teeth, weakening them,” Prof Balasubramaniam says.
It can also lead to sensitive teeth, stiffness in the jaw, headaches and, in extreme cases, loose teeth.
Sleep Health Foundation sleep expert Dr Moira Junge says some people report teeth clenching stops them from getting a good night’s sleep.
“People who come to me would want to stop it not only for their teeth, but also because they realise they’re really tired and just not getting a good night’s sleep,” Dr Junge says.
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Why do we grind our teeth?
Bruxism is a tricky issue because a range of things can trigger it and, because some people grind their teeth during sleep, you may not even know you have it.
In younger children, it may be caused by teeth coming through, stress, anxiety, or medical conditions such as cerebral palsy and ADHD.
In adults, it can be caused by all of these things too, but alcohol, smoking, coffee, antidepressants and other medications can exacerbate bruxism.
Dr Junge says sometimes teeth grinding seems to be genetic.
“We do see it really commonly in people who are stressed but sometimes, it does run in the family — some people may take six months off and be in the Bahamas, and still grind,” she says.
What can you do about it?
If you’re aware that you’re clenching your teeth or waking up with a stiff jaw, it’s time to get help.
Prof Balasubramaniam says the first step is to visit your dentist, who’ll assess you for any oral health problems, determine the underlying cause of your teeth grinding, and discuss your treatment options.
The good news is not everyone who grinds their teeth will require treatment.
Fortunately, for those who do, there are courses of action that’ll help you get longer-lasting teeth and a good night’s sleep.
Some further methods to help manage bruxism may include:
Because bruxism may be due to stress or anxiety, psychological approaches that include stress management, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy may be beneficial.
Doing regular mouth and jaw exercises can help relax your muscles.
You may be fitted with a splint which, like a mouthguard, helps to protect your teeth.
In severe cases, you may also seek medication, including muscle relaxants.
Dental Health Week runs from 1 to 7 August.