We all need a good night's sleep, both in quantity and quality. That's why the Better Sleep Council promotes Better Sleep Month every May with helpful tips on making sure you're not only getting enough sleep, but that it's also restful and therapeutic. The latter is crucial, especially if you have one problem that can diminish sleep quality: nocturnal teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary movement of the jaws outside of normal functioning like eating or speaking. You unconsciously grind teeth against teeth, increasing the pressure of biting forces beyond their normal range. It can occur while awake, but it is more common during sleep.
The habit is fairly widespread in children, thought to result from an immature chewing mechanism. Children normally outgrow the habit, and most healthcare providers don't consider it a major concern.
But teeth grinding can also carry over or arise in adulthood, fueled in large part by stress. It then becomes concerning: Chronic teeth grinding can accelerate normal age-related tooth wear and weaken or damage teeth or dental work. It may also contribute to jaw joint pain and dysfunction related to temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
If you notice frequent jaw tenderness or pain, or a family member says they've heard you grind your teeth at night, you should see us for a full examination. If you are diagnosed with teeth grinding, we can consider different means to bring it under control, depending on your case's severity and underlying causes.
Here are some things you can do:
Alter lifestyle habits. Alcohol and tobacco use have been associated with teeth grinding. To reduce episodes of nighttime teeth grinding, consider modifying (or, as with tobacco, stopping) your use of these and related substances. Altering your lifestyle in this way will likely also improve your overall health.
Manage stress. Teeth grinding can be a way the body “lets off steam” from the accumulated stress of difficult life situations. You may be able to reduce it through better stress management. Learn and practice stress reduction techniques like meditation or other forms of relaxation. You may also find counseling, biofeedback or group therapy beneficial.
Seek dental solutions. In severe cases, there are possible dental solutions to reducing the biting forces generated by teeth grinding. One way is to adjust the bite by removing some of the structure from teeth that may be more prominent than others. We may also be able to create a bite guard to wear at night that prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other.
These and other techniques can be used individually or together to create a customized treatment plan just for you. Minimizing teeth grinding will help ensure you're getting the most out of your sleep time, while protecting your dental health too.