Sleep bruxism 

Unlike teeth grinding that occurs during the day, sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding at night, is impossible to control since it happens while you're in deep sleep. The only way to prevent tooth to tooth contact or damage is the use of appliance therapy. A dental splint is a custom-made appliance that is worn while sleeping. Splints prevent tooth damage from grinding by seating the TMJ joint up and back, turning off the muscle activity, and keeping the teeth protected.

What exactly is teeth grinding and why is it bad?

Many people clench (vertical movement) and grind (horizontal movement) their teeth in their sleep. Some even do it unconsciously while awake. The medical term for teeth grinding is bruxism. Bruxism puts undue pressure on the TMJ (temporomandibular joints), which can strain muscles and ligaments and lead to chronic jaw pain, headaches, and tooth sensitivity.

Bruxism can also wear away tooth enamel, which is irreversible. Teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, and often occurs during the REM stage of sleep. It is more likely when someone has an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth, but the central nervous system triggers teeth grinding as well. 

How do I know if I grind my teeth in my sleep?

Dr. Vartanian can tell if you grind your teeth at night during the Comprehensive Exam. However, if you experience chronic jaw pain or headaches or hear clicking or popping noises when you open and close your mouth, you may grind your teeth at night. Following are symptoms when diagnosing bruxism:

  • Excessive wear on teeth
  • Cracks or chips in teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Difficulty opening mouth
  • Tired or sore jaw muscles 
  • Flattened teeth
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Cuts on cheek wall from biting
  • Increased tooth sensitivity 
  • Neck pain

Complications that develop from teeth grinding

While teeth grinding seems minor in the scope of dental issues, its chronic nature makes it a serious problem. Regular teeth grinding will damage teeth over time, reducing the enamel and causing wear, cracks, and chips.

Those who suffer from bruxism also report frequent headaches and neck aches, jaw pain, and sometimes what feels like ear aches. They can also develop TMD, or temporomandibular disorder, which results in pain while eating and talking.

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What causes teeth grinding

Research on bruxism is ongoing. It appears as if a combination of factors can lead to chronic teeth grinding, but stress likely plays a significant role. Stress management techniques like regular therapy and good sleep hygiene help to minimize bruxism. Here are some other possible causes: 

  • Feelings of anger, frustration, tension
  • Aggressive, hyperactive, or competitive personality types 
  • Sleep apnea - bruxism is often the first indication of sleep apnea 
  • Mental and medical health - people with conditions like dementia, ADHD, night terrors, and epilepsy, among others, often report bruxism
  • Genetics - bruxism runs in families
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