Headaches, a sore jaw, cracked teeth — tooth grinding and jaw clenching are common problems that can cause serious damage to your teeth. Unfortunately, many people do not realize they are engaging in these behaviors until symptoms appear.
The most common cause of grinding and clenching is stress. People going through difficult times are likely to unconsciously take it out on their teeth. Over time, grinding can become a habit, so that even when the stress is gone jaw tension remains.
Nighttime is by far the most common time of day for teeth grinding and jaw clenching to occur. Unfortunately, night grinders are less likely to realize that they have this common issue since it’s happening while they’re asleep.
Patients with pronounced grinding problems may also catch themselves clenching their jaw during the day while working or driving. People that grind their teeth during the day are almost always doing it in their sleep as well.
Teeth grinding and jaw clenching are very common issues. However, many people do not realize they have a problem until symptoms start to appear.
Teeth Grinding Symptoms & Risks
Your dentist will often be able to tell if you’re grinding your teeth even if you’re not aware it’s happening. Microfractures and wear marks on the teeth are common signs that clenching and grinding are happening regularly enough to impact the teeth. Many people will also experience jaw soreness and headaches caused by the continued tension.
Grinding and clenching can have serious consequences for dental health. Beyond basic tooth wear, broken teeth or fractured crowns and fillings are common occurrences with long term grinding. Symptoms in your jaw joint – the TMJ – such as clicking, popping, pain, and poor range of motion are also frequent. When people grind their teeth at night after talking and eating throughout the day, the TMJ never gets to rest and becomes tense and overworked.
Preventing & Treating Teeth Grinding
The most common treatment for teeth grinding and jaw clenching is a hard acrylic nightguard tray that can be obtained from your dentist. Unlike the softer mouthguards commonly sold in drug stores, the hard texture of these trays provides a signal to the brain to stop chewing. Softer over the counter versions may actually encourage the activity, protecting the teeth but increasing TMJ pain. While hard acrylic nightguards won’t necessarily stop grinding altogether, they provide protection for the teeth and prevent fractures and wear.
An acrylic tray is made from custom dental impressions taken in the office and sent out for manufacturing in a lab. Once it arrives, your dentist will check the fit to ensure it sits perfectly in your mouth. While insurance does not always cover nightguards, the cost of a guard is often lower than that of a broken tooth. It’s an investment in preventing future damage.
Nightguards are simple to care for. A gentle morning brushing removes plaque and a storage container in your bathroom keeps your tray safe from threats like curious dogs and heat (don’t leave it in your car on a hot day!). Hard acrylic guards typically last 5-10 years with nightly use. Even the worst of teeth grinders will get a few years out of an office-made nightguard.
Working to reduce stress can help alleviate grinding behaviors for many people. However, people that have formed a clenching or grinding habit will have trouble breaking the behavior and preventing further damage without help from a nightguard.
Hidden Valley Dentistry is committed to providing excellent dental care to the Roanoke, VA area. Dr. James and Dr. Deyerle have over 50 years of combined dental experience, and our practice has been well-respected throughout the community for decades. Each member of our kind and welcoming staff strives to continue making our community smile even brighter! Schedule a dental appointment with us, and we’ll bring your smile to life.