The human tooth is a wondrous thing. In fact it is considered the strongest material in the body. But chronic teeth grinding, called bruxism, can damage teeth and cause a host of other physical problems. It is often a symptom of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, better known as TMJ.
TMJ and Teeth Grinding
TMJ affects over 15% of the American population at some point in their lives. The problem is common because a person uses the affected joints so often. They are located on either side of the face and involve a complex system of nerves, muscles, ligaments, discs and bones. Working together, they make it possible for you to speak and to eat.
Common symptoms of TMJ include:
- Ear pain
- Aching in the head and neck area
- Tenderness and soreness around the jaw
- Pain when yawning or eating
- Clicking noises when you open your mouth
- Sensitive teeth
- Teeth grinding
The Dangers of Teeth Grinding
Simply by harming your tooth’s enamel, bruxism can cause your teeth to become more sensitive as well as more vulnerable to cavities and infection. As the enamel wears away, the deeper layers of a tooth are exposed to bacteria and food debris.
It can cause cosmetic problems by flattening teeth and even chipping them. They can become loose, causing difficulty chewing. If it is subjected to enough grinding, a tooth can even fracture, requiring a crown or an implant to fix the problem.
But the damage goes much further. Your face can become sore from the constant pressure from grinding your teeth. It can even feel like you have ear problems, though it is actually connected with the face and jaw muscles and nerves. Headaches and soreness in the neck are common.
In some cases, your mouth can develop difficulties from a related problem of constantly chewing on the inside of your cheek. Your tongue can end up with permanent indentations.
Help for Teeth Grinding
Two effective ways to treat teeth grinding are reducing stress in your life and using a dental night guard that stops night bruxism.
The link between stress and bruxism is clear. A very common cartoon cliche shows a clenched jaw to indicate anger or tension. A study conducted in 2010 showed that people who grind their teeth at night also complain of problems at work and at home, as well as other physical difficulties.
Experts say that regular meditation is helpful for managing daily stress. Pursuing a hobby, getting regular exercise and enjoying social get togethers are also helpful. Some patients report significant improvement with biofeedback.
A physical help for eliminating teeth grinding is the night guard, sometimes called a occlusal splint or a bite guard. It is a device that fits over your upper or lower set of teeth, preventing you from grinding your teeth when you sleep. It helps reduce bruxism and its effects in in three ways:
- Wearing it at night reduces the amount of grinding you do during the day because it makes you more aware of the unconscious grinding
- It lets your jaw find the best position, since it prevents your teeth from locking together
- It relaxes the muscles in your jaw, which reduces muscle spasms
It is important to stop teeth grinding as soon as possible. The effects are painful and long-term. Reducing stress is your first line of defense. Check with us to determine if you have TMJ issues and if we recommend a night guard.