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Teeth grinding happens when you clench and grind your teeth. Also known as bruxism, teeth grinding can cause serious harm to your teeth. Sleep bruxism, which involves grinding your teeth while you sleep, can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Bruxism is an involuntary reaction to stress, fear, or anger, but you can grind your teeth even when you are not responding to negative emotions. People who experience bruxism typically grind their teeth repeatedly, and the force of the grinding action can cause significant damage. This is particularly true if you grind your teeth at night – your jaw may clench down with as much as 250 pounds of force, and because you are asleep, you are not conscious that you are biting down that hard.
Teeth grinding can happen during the day or at night. Healthcare professionals consider sleep bruxism and bruxism while awake to be two distinct conditions, even though the teeth-grinding action is the same. Awake bruxism is more common, but because of the force applied to the teeth and jaw during sleep, sleep bruxism often causes more dental problems.
While there is no cure for bruxism, you can reduce its severity and frequency, decrease its effects on your teeth, and alleviate symptoms. You can take steps to reduce dental pain from grinding your teeth, for example, and take measures to soothe muscle pain in your jaw and neck. You can also take measures to reduce bruxism before it causes pain, sleep issues, and other problems.
Tips for Managing Teeth Grinding
Reduce your stress
Stress contributes to teeth grinding, so using relaxation techniques may help you reduce the frequency and severity of bruxism. Stress management includes getting enough exercise, reducing caffeine intake, spending time with friends and family, practicing mindfulness, and performing breathing exercises and deep breathing.
Manage your pain
Teeth grinding can cause enough pain in your teeth, jaws, and muscles, especially if you have night bruxism and do not wake up enough to stop grinding your teeth. Pain can also interfere with your ability to sleep well, so you feel exhausted the next day. Experiencing fatigue and pain all day long can cause stress, which leads to even more teeth grinding at night. If teeth grinding causes pain that keeps you up at night, take over-the-counter medications or other measures to reduce pain.
Perform mouth exercises and stretches
Performing certain mouth exercises can help alleviate pain and improve the range of motion in your jaw.
Try this exercise to relax the muscles associated with teeth grinding:
- Close your lips without letting your top and bottom teeth meet
- Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth without letting it touch your teeth
- Hold the position as long as you can
Try this exercise to improve movement in your jaw:
- Put your hands on your TMJ joint, which is where your jaw meets your skull
- Open your mouth slowly
- Hold your mouth open for 5 to 10 seconds
- Close your mouth slowly
Repeat this exercise for about 10 minutes; perform this exercise three times a day for best results.
Get a massage
A head and neck massage can melt away muscle tension and relieve pain associated with teeth grinding. A massage therapist or physical therapist can provide a professional massage and demonstrate techniques you can use at home to relax your muscles.
Avoid acidic foods and beverages
The acids in foods and drinks can dissolve the protective enamel covering your teeth. Tooth enamel is extremely strong and can usually withstand the forces of chewing. Erosion from acidic foods and beverages can weaken tooth enamel, increasing the risk for tooth fractures when you grind your teeth.
Identify other health conditions
Certain health conditions can put your teeth at a higher risk of damage from bruxism. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which your breathing pauses while you sleep; about a quarter of all people with OSA experience sleep bruxism.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acids flow upwards into the food pipe and even into the back of your mouth. Stomach acid can erode the enamel on your back teeth, which takes the brunt of the force when you bite down. In time, the assault on your enamel and the force of your jaw muscles can fracture your back teeth and collapse your bite, which can require extensive bite reconstruction.
Protect your teeth with a mouthguard
A mouth guard, also known as a night guard or dental splint, creates a barrier between your teeth to minimize tooth damage. It also holds your jaw in a specific position to prevent teeth from grinding while you sleep; holding your jaw in this slightly open position allows your chewing muscles to relax all night. Depending on your personal needs, your mouthguard might go over the entire set of upper or lower teeth or it might cover a smaller section of your mouth.
See your dentist
Your dentist is your biggest ally when it comes to coping with teeth grinding. Your dental care professional can examine your teeth and mouth to determine if bruxism has caused damage, for example, and give you more tips on dealing with teeth grinding. Your dentist can help identify any other conditions, such as OSA and GERD, occurring alongside your bruxism. A dentist can also fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth and jaws from damage from bruxism.
For more information about coping with teeth grinding, consult with your Westerville, OH, dentist at Westerville Dental Associates. We keep Central Ohio smiling!