Are You An Unconscious Night Time Teeth Clencher or Grinder?

Every now and then a patient comes into our practice with a broken tooth that was previously asymptomatic. Many times it’s on a tooth that never had a filling or otherwise been operated on. After they get over their initial shock and confusion, we explain to them how a seemingly healthy tooth can "magically" break while eating something soft.

Leading Cause of Unconscious Teeth Grinding and Clenching

Stress is generally accepted to be the leading cause of nighttime clenching and grinding. As you know, there are many stressors in modern life:

  • frenetic work schedules
  • project deadlines
  • economic inflation
  • family and marital considerations
  • unforseen breakdowns

How It Short-circuits Our Natural Defenses

Whether or not we are consciously aware of these everyday stressors, our bodies react to these stimuli in countless ways that are supposed to raise them to the level of our consciousness. One of these physical reactions is in our jaw muscles. You know how your jaw tightens when something causes you to become angry? Unconscious stress can cause our jaw muscles to contract excessively, leading to a clenching and/or grinding habit that will eventually result in the premature wearing-down of our teeth.

When we are awake our brain prevents us from clenching our teeth down with excessive force. However, during sleep, this natural braking system doesn’t work. Throughout the night, we can end up putting over 100 pounds of pressure on our teeth without even knowing it! This excessive force creates micro fractures in our teeth, and over time the fractures get deeper and deeper, until one day the tooth cracks.

How Not to Get Caught Unawares

Here's a little-known fact. It is currently estimated that over 50 percent of adults grind or clench their teeth. And more than 90 percent of those who do are not aware of the damage they are doing to their teeth on a daily basis until their dentist points it out to them! (Let us hope that the other 10 percent have bed partners that let them know when they're grinding and tell them to see a dentist.)

If clenching is so common, why aren’t more people aware of this condition? The main reason is that the effects of night time clenching and grinding don't show up immediately. It’s entirely common for patients to not experience any form of pain in the morning. In serious cases, patients may feel a mild headache in the morning and some soreness in the jaws, but for the most part it is a silent condition. The damage takes place over long periods of unconscious clenching. Unfortunately, by the time the patient realizes something is wrong, they have already ended up in the dentists' chair with broken or worn-down teeth.

This is the kind of unwelcome surprise our practice wants to stop anyone from having to experience. Your dentist is trained to check for abnormal wear patterns on teeth, cracks, excessive muscle tightness in the jaws and abnormal joint noises, all of which are indicative of grinding or clenching. However, it's your mouth and it's ultimately up to you to ask your dentist provider if they observe any signs of clenching or grinding going on.

Night Gaurds Are One Safe & Effective Treatment

Provided there's no major damage to your teeth yet, a night guard is often the most conservative (and effective) treatment recommended. A night guard fits over your teeth, preventing your upper and lower teeth from connecting and absorbing the excessive pressure from your jaws.

Getting fitted for a nightgaurd is a simple process. An impression of your teeth will be taken at your appointment for a comfortable fit that will last a while. The procedure usually takes less than five minutes, and a week later your custom-made night guard will be returned from the lab and fitted on you.

Every night before you sleep, you should wear the night guard. Wearing your nightgaurd regularly will help prevent a lot of major tooth damage from happening happening over time. Don't forget, preventative treatment is always the easiest and most effective way to ensure your smile remains healthy and beautiful for life. Getting fitted for a nightgaurd is an effective short-term solution to nighttime teeth clenching and grinding, but the treatment that will have the most positive, long-term impact is to stop stress before it starts!

Schedule an appointment online to have one of our dentists review your suspected case of Bruxism and get fitted for a night guard.

Posted on September 11, 2013 .