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Teeth grinding is a condition whereby one excessively grinds or clenches their teeth. Typically grinding and clenching occurs mostly when sleeping but some individuals may grind and clench during the day also. Teeth grinding is also referred to as bruxism.
Teeth grinding can create numerous problems such as local muscular pain, headaches, loss of tooth structure, gum recession, loose teeth, shortening of teeth, tooth sensitivity, cracked and broken teeth, damage to the bone structure of the jaw joint with temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ syndrome), and even facial changes. Children that grind due to a breathing airway problem can have developmental issues.
The exact cause of teeth grinding is not totally understood and there are numerous different theories. However, there is a link to breathing airway issues, such as sleep apnea, jaw posture positions, tooth position, dental work that has changed jaw position or tooth positions, abnormal bite, trauma, repetitive strain, lifestyle activities, as well as emotional and developmental issues.
The habit of grinding, gnashing, grating, or clenching the teeth is termed bruxism, and millions of adults and children are affected by this condition. While its exact cause is unknown, most experts believe that bruxism can occur as a response to increased psychological stress.
Bruxism involves any type of forceful contact between the teeth, whether silent and clenching, or loud and grating. Estimates vary regarding the number of people who suffer from this condition and range from 50-95% of the adult population. Approximately 15% of all children also acquire this condition. Many people are not aware that they have this condition because they grind their teeth at night while asleep, although bruxism can occur during daytime hours as well.
Anyone that has teeth can potentially grind their teeth. Anyone from small toddlers to the elderly and everyone in between can grind their teeth.
Symptoms of teeth grinding include headaches, muscle pain, jaw tenderness, shortened teeth, gum recession, notches or indentations on the gum line of teeth, tooth sensitivity, cracked and broken teeth, and temporomandibular joint syndrome.
A sleep study is recommended to rule out an airway issue because grinding occurs mostly at night while sleeping. If a poor airway is a contributing factor then treatment can be offered for the airway first and sometimes the teeth grinding will cease. Every situation of teeth grinding is managed uniquely, but often a mouth guard fitted by a dentist is helpful. The mouth guard is worn when sleeping to protect the teeth from grinding. Dietary changes, postural modifications, emotional therapy, medications, injections, tooth adjustments and dental work, orthodontics, surgery, are various treatments used.
The prognosis for teeth grinding can very good, especially if the underlying cause can be determined. If it cannot, then at least wearing a properly fitting mouth guard can protect the teeth from further damage and often lessen the effects on the bone, muscle, and tissues. Babies and toddlers grinding their teeth should always have an airway evaluation.