Studies show that between 10% and 30% of people report grinding or clenching their teeth (called bruxism) either at night when they are asleep or during the day. I think the numbers are actually much higher based on my observations. Doctors don’t know why some people are more susceptible than others, but there are some studies that show links between hormone changes and bruxism. There are also some studies that show bruxism can run in families. Stress, anxiety, alcohol, smoking, and some anti-depressant drugs have been shown to increase the incidence of bruxism.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to get a sense of whether or not you grind or clench:
Do you often find that your teeth are closed together during the day? (if the answer is yes, then they are probably often clenched at night too!)
Do you wake up in the morning and your jaw muscles feel sore or you have a headache?
Are your teeth cracking or chipping?
Do you have sensitivity or toothaches that come and go with no apparent pattern?
Is it sometimes difficult to open your mouth very wide because the muscles are very tight?
Do you have a clicking sound in your jaw?
Do you have a white line on the inside of your cheek?
When I examine a patient, I can see patterns of wear on the teeth and mouth that are consistent with grinding and clenching. I can also feel tension in the muscles of the jaw and cheeks that are often a consequence of grinding and clenching. Those are signs that bruxism is a possibility.
So why is bruxism bad for you? Good question. The short answer is that it wears your teeth down. It can cause tooth pain and sensitivity. It can shorten the life of your dental work (fillings, crowns, bridges). It can cause headaches and facial pain. It can crack your teeth or weaken them so that something else breaks them (like a popcorn kernel).
Here’s what you can do about it. Talk to your dentist! I deal with this common problem all the time and have a lot of ideas to help you. Some easy behavior awareness can help. Your mantra during the day should be “Lips closed. Teeth open.” Sometimes I recommend a night guard. Sometimes there are stretches that can help. Taking supplements to relax muscles can be effective. Sometimes adjusting a patient’s bite is helpful. Each person is different and we can create a unique set of strategies to help you manage this and protect your teeth.