When you wake up in the morning, do you have a sore jaw or pounding headache that a good night of sleep can’t explain? Perhaps your partner or roommate complains of strange noises coming from your side of the room. Maybe your teeth and gums feel oddly sensitive in the morning.
If you experience any of these symptoms and don’t know why, you could be grinding your teeth at night. Tooth grinding, or bruxism, affects many American children and adults, but it can be hard to diagnose in people who sleep on their own. Unless a partner or roommate points it out to you, you could go on grinding your teeth for years and never know-until it gets so loud that you wake yourself up, or a dentist notices telltale signs of wear on your teeth.
In our blog below, we’ll tell you more about what bruxism is, why it can hurt your teeth and damage your overall health, and how you can manage it.
- Tooth grinding can happen for one of several reasons, or from a combination of causes:
- Misaligned teeth (malocclusions) or overbites
- Stress, anxiety, or frustration
- Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea
- Diseases like acid reflux, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s
- ADHD or hyperactivity, especially in children
- Pain from earaches or headaches, especially in children
Some people suspect that drinking caffeine before bed increases tooth grinding at night, as does chewing on pencils, ice, and other non-food materials. Some medications, including antidepressants, can make you more prone to grind your teeth at night.
While bruxism is more common in children, it can often develop in adults, especially as life circumstances change and become more stressful.
Primary Symptoms and Detection Methods
Along with the symptoms mentioned above, people with bruxism might notice:
- More frequent earaches and headaches
- Flattened teeth and worn enamel
- Facial pain and tension
- Popping in the jaw
If you’re a parent and your child complains of one or more of these problems, peek into their room after they fall asleep. You can also place an old baby monitor in their room to listen. Over half of children with bruxism grow out of the habit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t cause damage in the meantime. Talk to your child’s dentist about age-appropriate treatment plans.
If you’re an adult who typically sleeps alone, you might have a hard time identifying your tooth grinding habits. If you notice bruxism symptoms, ask your dentist if he or she notices any wear on your teeth. You can also use an app like Sleepbot to record any noises you make at night, including sleep talking, snoring, and tooth grinding.
Why do you need to diagnose and control your bruxism? Apart from the painful symptoms mentioned above, tooth grinding can cause long-lasting problems in both kids and adults. In its most extreme form, bruxism can cause your teeth to loosen and fall out. However, this usually happens only if you have an extreme case of bruxism that goes undetected for years.
Milder bruxism-related dental problems include the wearing down of enamel, which can increase tooth sensitivity and cavities.
Over time, the increased pressure on your teeth might cause them to fracture or break, which means you need veneers and crowns. Bruxism can also cause temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders like TMD, which results in jaw pain, headaches, dizziness, and earaches.
Perhaps most importantly, stress-related bruxism indicates a lower quality of life. If you experience too much stress, anxiety, and frustration in your everyday life, you’ll get a less restful sleep along with the health and dental problems bruxism causes. Learning coping skills to deal with your anxiety will keep your teeth healthier, and it will make you happier as well.
Common Bruxism Treatments
- The treatment your dentist or doctor recommends often depends on the underlying cause of your tooth grinding:
- If you have acid reflux problems, your doctor might recommend antacids or dietary changes.
- If you have misaligned teeth or an overbite, orthodontic treatments will eventually realign your teeth or jaw and solve the problem.
- If you have undiagnosed ADHD, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s, certain medications can treat the underlying problem.
- If medication causes your problem, your doctor might change the dosage or the medication.
- If you have stress-related bruxism, your doctor or dentist might recommend therapy, counseling, or biofeedback tactics to help you manage the stress in your life.
Regardless of the cause, your dentist will likely prescribe a custom night guard that protects your teeth. If you have a night guard, your teeth grind against plastic instead of against each other. Your partner or roommate might still complain of a strange noise, but the noise on the plastic should be quieter and less grating than the sound of teeth against teeth.
If you have further questions about bruxism, talk to your dentist. He or she can examine your teeth, talk to you about symptoms and underlying causes, and recommend the right treatment. With a little help, you’ll soon be enjoying a quieter night and a more peaceful sleep.