Millions of people around the world unknowingly harm their teeth in their sleep. No matter how diligently you care for your teeth during the day, you may experience teeth grinding and jaw clenching, a condition known as bruxism, while sleeping or in stressful situations. Over time, these actions can wear on your mouth and cause permanent damage if not properly addressed.
Stress and anxiety are the most common reasons for teeth grinding and jaw clenching. This can occur both during the day and while sleeping—people will often grind their teeth in stressful situations without realizing. Bruxism is one of the many ways that the human body physically manifests stress, even if we are not aware of it. The next time you are in a high-stress situation, pay attention to what’s happening in your mouth: are you clenching your jaw? If you’re one of the 8% of Americans who suffer from this condition, you probably are.
There are several other risk factors for bruxism. If you suffer from substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, and caffeine), sleep apnea, and bite/alignment issues, you could be at risk. One of the best ways to know if you suffer from bruxism is if you wake up with a sore mouth or a tight jaw. You may also begin to notice that your teeth wear down in odd patterns. Though these changes may not be obvious, they will become more pronounced over time. Long-term jaw clenching can lead to earaches and headaches.
The best way to confirm a bruxism diagnosis is to mention your symptoms to a dentist at your biannual appointment. The dentist can review the wear patterns on your teeth and examine your jaw to determine if you’ve been grinding or clenching without realizing. If your dentist confirms your diagnosis, they will likely prescribe a mouth guard to wear in your sleep. This may take some getting used to, but before long you’ll be waking up pain-free and more refreshed.
While a mouthguard will stop the symptoms of bruxism, it is not a cure for the underlying issues that caused it in the first place. To address these deeper issues, your dentist may recommend a sleep specialist who can more thoroughly test for sleep apnea.