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Dental health and teeth grinding (bruxism)

Most people probably grind and clench their teeth from time to time. Occasional teeth grinding, the medical term for which is bruxism, does not usually cause harm, but when teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis the teeth can be damaged and other oral health complications can arise.

Why do people grind their teeth?

Although teeth grinding can be caused by stress and anxiety, it often occurs during sleep and is can also be caused by an abnormal bite or missing or crooked teeth.

How do I find out if I grind my teeth?

Because it often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. However, a dull, constant headache or a tender or painful jaw is a definite symptom of bruxism. People often first learn that they grind their teeth from their partner who hears the grinding at night.

If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist. He or she can examine your mouth and jaw for signs of bruxism, such as jaw tenderness and abnormalities in your teeth.

Why is teeth grinding harmful?

In some cases, chronic teeth grinding can result in a fracturing, loosening or even loss of teeth. The chronic grinding may wear teeth down to stumps. When these events happen, bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, partial dentures and even complete dentures may be needed.

Not only can severe grinding damage teeth and result in tooth loss, it can also affect your jaw and jaw joints, result in hearing loss, cause or worsen jaw joint (temporo-mandibular joint) disease, and even change the appearance of your face.

What can I do to stop grinding my teeth?

Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding during sleep.

If stress is causing you to grind your teeth, ask your GP about options to reduce your stress. Attending stress counselling, starting an exercise programme, seeing a physiotherapist or obtaining a prescription for muscle relaxants are among some of the options that may be offered.

Other tips to help you stop teeth grinding include:

  • Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as colas, chocolate, tea and coffee.
  • Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption.
  • Do not chew on pencils or pens or anything that is not food. Avoid chewing gum as it allows your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth.
  • Train yourself not to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice that you clench or grind during the day, position the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This practice trains your jaw muscles to relax.
  • Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm flannel against your cheek in front of your earlobe.
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