Oftentimes, those who grind their teeth don’t even realize it.
Most teeth grinding happens at night, while people are asleep. Therefore, it’s pretty easy to attribute the symptoms of teeth grinding with other issues.
It is an under researched medical phenomena.
That’s why the true term for it probably sounds foreign to you:
What Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the technical term for teeth grinding or clenching during sleep.
Infrequent bruxism isn’t that serious. But when it happens regularly, it can result in a variety of other issues.
Millions of people around the world are affected by bruxism and don’t know it.
It’s a subtle occurrence that many are completely in the dark about. The medical community has struggled to find an underlying cause for some time now. Recently, new information has come to light that seems to contradict prior conclusions.
When researching teeth grinding, you might have come across a lot of information citing stress as the primary cause. However, new evidence suggests that stress is not necessarily to blame.
That is, unless, you suffer from daytime bruxism.
Although considered a separate disorder, daytime bruxism is a similar condition.
They seem to operate rather differently. While teeth grinding is much more common in nighttime bruxism, teeth clenching is more common for daytime sufferers. Daytime bruxism is also more commonly reported, though it may actually be less common (it is easier to detect).
There isn’t necessarily a correlation between the two: suffering from one does not seem to increase the chance of suffering from the other.
Daytime bruxism has been associated with high stress careers. If you clench or grind your teeth throughout the day, you probably notice it. That is not necessarily the case for nighttime sufferers.
How to Tell If You Grind Your Teeth at Night
The symptoms of bruxism aren’t always obvious.
First, your body is built to adapt. Your brain is designed to stop reminding you of discomfort if it is continual. Therefore, it’s easy to acclimatize to the symptoms and fail to notice.
Secondly, some of the most common symptoms can be caused by other factors.
Symptoms of Grinding Your Teeth
Many suffer from sleep bruxism and don’t know until complications develop.
Understanding the symptoms is the first step in recognizing it.
The list is more diverse than you may realize:
- dry mouth
- audible grinding or clenching
- loose teeth
- damaged teeth
- loss of teeth
- increased sensitivity
- periodic swelling
- gum inflammation
- gum recession
- jaw or face pain
- jaw tightness
- salivary gland blockage
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
- ears ringing
- loss of hearing
You’ll notice that there are a range of affects. Different areas are affected, with different sensitivities.
All of that is what makes it hard to diagnose. It has probably also contributed to why it has been difficult for scientists to pinpoint a true cause.
Traditionally Accepted Causes of Bruxism
It seems the medical community was grasping at straws with this for a long time.
Stress and anxiety are traditionally the most common causes attributed to bruxism. But lots of causes have been considered over time, including things like poor bite and infectious disease.
Until recently, it was hard to draw any significant correlations.
Daytime bruxism may point to a link between teeth bruxism and stress, but the studies are ultimately inconclusive. Genetic predisposition may also play a role.
About the only thing science is sure of is that it is triggered by the nervous system. Bruxism has been associated with depression, hostility, and sensitivity to stress. It has even been connected to anxiety in children.
Still, there is probably another underlying cause (that may be contributing to your stress levels as well).
The Most Likely Reason You Grind Your Teeth
Studies suggest that bruxism may be an evolutionary response to keep you from suffocating at night.
The medical community has long correlated sleep apnea and bruxism—considering sleep apnea as a potential cause.
That’s not quite right, as teeth clenching and grinding may actually help some people keep their airways open at night. In this way, blocked airways are the root cause of both nighttime teeth grinding and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in some people.
We’ve discussed the issues associated with teeth grinding already. But the issues surrounding sleep apnea are much more serious.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Like bruxism, cases of sleep apnea can vary in severity.
Even if yours is on the lighter side, it’s something you want to get checked out by a doctor. You should probably seek out a sleep study to test for OSA. The risks associated with allowing sleep apnea to continue are pretty severe.
Some of these risks include:
- mental fatigue
- headaches or migraines
- mental health issues
- daytime fatigue
- metabolic syndrome
- weight gain
- type 2 diabetes
- acid reflux
- liver problems
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- complications with medication and surgery
People with OSA even five times more likely than normal sleepers to have traffic accidents, according to UPMC HealthBeat.
So if your teeth grinding is a likely indicator of sleep apnea, why wouldn’t you take measures to look into it?
How to Stop Grinding Your Teeth at Night
Mild bruxism might not require treatment.
But you need to take measures if your bruxism is frequent and/or severe. Your teeth are literally at stake. The effects of grinding and clenching are cumulative. And if they are related to OSA, there is even more on the line.
Keep in mind that lifestyle choices may contribute to the severity of your bruxism. Smoking, caffeine, and alcohol are all considered cofactors of bruxism. Reducing them may help lessen your bruxism.
If that’s not enough (as it probably won’t be), you’ll want to look into treatment options.
Mouthguards are the longest standing solution to treat bruxism.
Mouthguards for Teeth Grinding
While some of the latest science suggests that mouthguards can make OSA worse, they can protect your teeth from grinding and clenching.
For nighttime bruxism, we only recommend going for a mouthguard after you have had a sleep study conducted by a professional and had OSA ruled out. If your issue is daytime bruxism, mouthguards are really your only option.
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure.
That’s exactly what you need if you have OSA-related teeth grinding. A CPAP machine is basically a small air circulation unit. You place a mask or nose piece on your face. This piece is connected to the machine via a hose.
The constant circulation of air helps to regulate breathing and combat air obstruction.
CPAP machines are the industry standard to treat sleep apnea. Your dentist may even be able to make you an oral appliance that can be used in tandem with the machine. In some cases, this oral appliance may be sufficient to halt OSA and bruxism alone.
Whether stress or other factors contribute to teeth grinding or not, the medical community is finally getting a hold on how to properly diagnose and treat this issue.
Still, teeth grinding and OSA are both difficult to detect on your own.
It might not seem that serious. But it’s crucial that you see a dental professional if you think you might be suffering from either bruxism or OSA. The side effects of letting the issue continue could damage more than your dental health.
If you grind your teeth, your overall health may be at stake.