I have recently been experiencing pain in my teeth whenever I bite on something hard. It is a very sharp pain, which then becomes a dull, but still painful, ache in my gums for a few hours. I went to the dentist, who told me my teeth are worn down because I grind my teeth. But I don’t!
Teeth-grinding is also called bruxism.
Do you clench your teeth or grind them against one another from time to time, especially when you are experiencing stress or anxiety? You might not even be aware of it!
If you grind your teeth occasionally, it is okay. But if you do it on a regular basis, then it can cause your teeth to wear down.
Grinding your teeth during the day is called awake bruxism.
You probably do it when you are focusing intensely on something, or if you are extremely stressed and this is a way to express your anger and frustration.
However, most people grind their teeth at night.
You are probably not even aware of it. You can ask your sleeping partner or spouse if you do this, because sometimes, they will be able to hear you doing it.
If you sleep alone or if you sleep with someone who sleeps so deeply that they are completely unaware of what you do at night, then one way to tell if you have been grinding your teeth at night is noting whether you have a sore jaw or dull headache when you wake up in the morning.
Most often, it is your dentist who tells you that you have been grinding your teeth, as he can see that your teeth, especially the molars, have been worn down.
Why do people grind their teeth at night?
It is often caused by having an abnormal bite.
If you have had work done on your teeth – such as capping – or if your teeth are crooked, it can cause an uncomfortable fit or misalignment of your upper and lower teeth.
Thus, you may end up grinding them.
Another major cause is a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnoea. In fact, one out of four people with sleep apnoea grind their teeth at night.
This happens when your throat muscles relax during the night and block your airway. This interrupts your breathing.
Your oxygen level goes down, which in turn triggers your diaphragm and lungs to pump for the next breath.
Grinding your teeth at night is also called sleep bruxism.
Another cause of this is a sleep chewing activity associated with being aroused during sleep!
My cousin has a child who grinds her teeth at night. Surely this child cannot be having sleep apnoea?
Children who grind their teeth often do it during deep sleep. As many as 20% to 30% of children do it!
They do this mainly because their teeth are misaligned when they are growing up. They will eventually outgrow it when their teeth grow out properly.
They also do it when they are stressed, or experiencing pain like an earache or when they are teething.
Things that cause a child stress are not the same things that cause an adult stress.
They may be worried about an upcoming exam (hence grinding occurs pre-exam!), or because they quarrelled with you or their sibling.
In fact, you as a parent may be the one causing your child to have bruxism.
Take away the stressor by reassuring your child, keeping the peace and settling all arguments before bedtime, and your child may not grind his teeth anymore.
Is there anything that aggravates grinding of teeth? Like, should I still drink coffee?
These are the risk factors for bruxism:
If you can eliminate your stress, then you will probably eliminate your teeth grinding.
Is your job stressing you out, or your boss or spouse?
Sometimes, you can’t change your circumstances, but you can find a way to cope.
Take an exercise class or yoga. Go to the spa. De-stress by going out with your friends or to a movie.
If you have a competitive, aggressive or Type A personality, or if you are a very active person, you might be prone to teeth-grinding.
• Alcohol or drinks with caffeine (that includes coffee and soft drinks)
• Recreational drugs
• Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
• Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
• Family members with bruxism
Is teeth grinding dangerous?
Well, yes. It can lead to permanent teeth damage, and pain while you are eating or drinking.
It can even lead to jaw damage or disorders in your jaw joints. It can also give you tension headaches.
The best thing to do for teeth grinding is to find out the cause (e.g. sleep apnoea) and treat it.
Dentists can fit you with a mouth guard to prevent your teeth from getting worn down in the meantime, while you are fixing the cause of your bruxism.