For some people, teeth-grinding and clenching while sleeping can cause headaches, jaw pain and wearing down of teeth.
Ohio dentist Matthew Messina, DDS, a consumer advisor spokesperson for the American Dental Association says teeth-grinding, or nocturnal bruxism occurs as a response to the teeth not fitting quite right. “For some reason, their teeth don’t fit smoothly, or the place where their teeth fit the best isn’t where the muscles are the most relaxed. So what’s happening is the body is trying to remove the interference by wearing them (the teeth) out. And eventually, the body will win – we have enough chewing power to crack teeth, split teeth, break fillings.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s official diagnosis of bruxism is audible tooth-grinding for 3 or more nights a week, for at least 3 months. And, it can come and go. It’s most common among kids, and less frequent in adults, though if it’s present in childhood, it’s seldom outgrown in adulthood. Stress is a known aggravator of bruxism. That’s because when you’re stressed, you gain energy that needs to somehow be released – and for some people, that release comes in the form of muscle contractions.
Messina says, “Everyone responds to stress in a different way – what stresses you out may stress me differently. And that’s why not everyone grinds their teeth… If you have an existing bite issues and you throw in some stress, the body may find clenching and grinding as a relief.”
Dr. Messina, and Dr. Erik K. St. Louis, M.D., head of the Section of Sleep Neurology at the Mayo Clinic offered some suggestions for making the grinding stop. What works for one person, may not work for another… the cause of the condition is personal to each individual.
For some people, caffeine and alcohol intake can worsen bruxism, so reducing the amount may help to reduce frequency and severity of bruxing. Teeth-grinding can be a result of an acute situation (such as someone who got a blow to the jaw). A warm washcloth to the side of the face may be helpful. For someone though who’s having long-term clenching and grinding, this may not help.
Meditation, yoga and mindfulness can all help to lower stress, reducing tension and muscle activity.
Consider giving up a gum-chewing habit. Deliberately trying to focus on relaxing the jaw may help.
Go to your dentist for an oral appliance to help you stop grinding. While there are store-bought kinds of appliances, your dentist can diagnose why you’re grinding your teeth, and will fit you with the proper device. And some good news from Messina – if you get an oral appliance from a dentist, it does not mean you are doomed to wearing the mouth gear in bed for the rest of your life. Says Messina, “About 70% of people, if they use an appliance and get their bite balanced, we can get them to stop grinding at least most of the time.” huffposthealth 5/18/14