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Do You Have A Nightly Grind? Teeth Clenching

Do you find yourself sitting in a meeting at work or working on your computer, only to realize you’re clenching your teeth? Do you wake up refreshed and ready to start the day, or do you wake up with a sore jaw and sore teeth, with possibly a headache or neck pain? If so, you may be clenching your teeth at night while you sleep.

Dentists don’t really know why people grind their teeth at night. It could be because you’re under major stress, or it could be because you have misaligned teeth. Pediatric dentists say that many children under age 6 grind their front baby teeth, so maybe you’ve just continued the habit from childhood. More than half of all women gnash at night, but no one knows why. It remains a mystery!

The official term for teeth clenching and grinding is called bruxism. Damage can be minor to severe. In fact, about 10 percent of patients have severe damage. Grinding your teeth at night exerts a large force on your teeth—hundreds of pounds of force in fact—so you can see how that would create damage over time. Clenching causes your jaw to move from side to side or front to back rather than up and down. Over time, teeth wear down, easily chip, and can even become loose, and your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) becomes tight and sore and the ligaments can become damaged. Some patients have significant pain and can even have earaches and severe headaches. Some dentists and ENT surgeons believe that teeth clenching causes ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

How Do I Know If I Have Bruxism?

There is a simple way to find out. Using your thumb or finger, feel your upper and lower front teeth. Do the edges feel ragged or do you feel any chips in your teeth? Look closely at your teeth in the mirror. Do they look worn down or flatter than usual? If you answered yes, you likely are grinding your teeth, perhaps without even knowing it. Most patients are completely unaware.

Think about how you feel when you first wake up. Does your neck hurt or do you have a headache? Your teeth or jaw may be sore and you might even have ringing in your ears.

Can I Fix My Bruxism?

The best thing you can do is posture awareness. Pay more attention during the day as to whether you’re clenching and adopt the “lips together, teeth apart” posture to relax your jaw.

If you’re a night gnasher, your dentist might order a sleep study. This will determine whether you have a blocked airway issue that is causing you to grind; fixing the airway problem usually means that the teeth grinding goes away. If your airway is fine, your dentist will create a custom-fitted bruxism mouth guard to wear at night.

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