Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
Felt pain in your jaw or had a constant headache that you couldn’t explain or maybe your partner complained of weird noises you were making while asleep. If you said yes to any of the above or maybe all of the above then you are probably grinding your teeth, although you don’t remember doing so. Teeth grinding is fairly common, especially in children. But the question is – is teeth-grinding during sleep normal? If not, then what’s the damage it can cause? Let’s find some answers.
What is teeth-grinding?
In medical terms, teeth-grinding is known as Bruxism when a person unconsciously grinds their teeth or clenches their jaw. Normally it happens while a person is asleep, but in some cases, teeth grinding can also occur while awake. Both adults and children are prone to do doing so. If not resolved, teeth grinding can cause severe dental damage over time while jaw clenching can put pressure on jaw muscles leading to jaw pain and stiffness.
How to know whether you grind teeth or not?
Since Bruxism usually happens in an unconscious state, you might not remember doing it. Many times it can go absolutely unnoticed if the issue gets resolved on its own. Only the person sleeping near you can tell because of the “embarrassing” noises you make. However, there are certain symptoms of teeth-grinding that you might face. These are:
- Broken or loose teeth
- Sudden sensitivity
- Sore gums
- Pain or stiffness in or around the jaw
- Popping of jaw joints
- Constant dull headache
In view of the fact that teeth-grinding is a sleep disorder, other key symptoms of it can be:
- Eating disorder
Why are you grinding teeth?
Causes of teeth-grinding are not very clear. But it is commonly linked with stress, anger, alcohol consumption, smoking, caffeine and fatigue. Use of certain medications can also be a cause. However, it has been noticed that those who grind their teeth often have other sleep disorders as well. Obstructive Sleep Apnea tops the list. Other sleep disorders diagnosed in most bruxists are sleep-talking, injurious behaviour during sleep, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
Out of all of the sleep disorders, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most problematic, since your breathing is interrupted during sleep. Because of that, you may not get all the benefits of a healthy sleep and illnesses related to it will follow. Sleep apnea also extensively increases the risk of high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression and obesity.
On the other hand, causes of teeth grinding in children may wary from causes of teeth grinding in adults. Children could be grinding their teeth because their top and bottom teeth are not in proper alignment. Or they could be doing do so to ease out earache. Stress and anger could be a cause in children as well. Hyperactive children are also prone to Bruxism.
Is teeth-grinding harmful?
As discussed, teeth grinding puts a lot of pressure on teeth and gums. And that can lead to dental injuries like broken teeth or can cause sudden sensitivity, pain in the jaw muscles and the jaw bone. These incidents can cause permanent damage to the teeth and jaw. Various treatments like a root canal, crowns and implants may be needed to fix the teeth. Since your jaw is also affected, it can alter the appearance of the face.
Moreover, because Bruxism is a sleep disorder which is often accompanied by other sleep disorders like sleep apnea, it can pose a serious threat to your life. Thus, getting tested for it is absolutely necessary. Along with that, get tested for diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure as well because all these conditions are related to sleep apnea.
How is teeth-grinding diagnosed and treated?
Many times teeth-grinding is not severe and stops on its own. But if it continues for a longer period and you start to notice the symptoms discussed above, then, it is time to visit your dentist. While your dentist may not make an exact diagnosis, he will, however, examine damage to your teeth and recommend a proper course of action. He will also be able to help you with a mouth guard that you can use while sleeping to protect further dental damage. A point to be noted here is that mouthguard can make sleep apnea worse. So be careful about using that.
When the risk of teeth grinding is identified, you can get further tests done to determine the cause and any other sleep disorders. Often sleep study is needed to make a diagnosis. Although there is no exact solution of Bruxism but its causes like stress or sleep disorder can be treated which may stop the symptoms. Avoiding caffeine, smoking and alcohol can also help.
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