About twenty percent of US adults grind their teeth, which begs the question; Why? Research shows that there are several possible reasons for this behavior, and there are even two different types of teeth grinding!
So, what causes teeth grinding? People grind their teeth because of stress, drug use, anxiety, or an abnormal bite. Most teeth grinding occurs at night when the sufferer is sleeping, and so the most popular remedy is to wear a mouthguard while you sleep.
Waking up with an achy, sore jaw isn’t how anyone would wish to start their day. Instead of treating the symptoms, there are also ways to address the problem of teeth grinding head-on. In figuring out what causes teeth grinding to occur, you can identify what causes your grinding, and how to stop it right now.
WHAT IS TEETH GRINDING (BRUXISM)?
Teeth grinding is when your jaw involuntarily clenches, causing your teeth to grind and gnash against one another, usually as you sleep. Known as bruxism, teeth grinding is somewhat common among adults, especially those with busy or stressful lives. Bruxism is fairly common, affecting between 30 and 40 million people in the US.
DO PEOPLE ONLY GRIND THEIR TEETH AT NIGHT?
No! Bruxism can occur at any time, but if it occurs during the day, there is a higher chance of stopping the behavior, as you will likely realize that you are grinding your teeth, and promptly relax your jaw. When bruxism happens at night, while you are asleep, you have no control over your body, and therefore most damage caused by grinding your teeth occurs while you are sleeping.
WHAT CAUSES BRUXISM?
Bruxism may be caused by a myriad of things, ranging from emotional distress to physical malformation. Research shows that heart rate and brain activity increase before an episode of bruxism occurs, meaning that the central nervous system may play a significant role. By far, the most common link among those suffering from bruxism is stress.
When you’re stressed, your entire body tenses up, including your jaw. This tension occurs because your body is getting you ready to either "fight or flight."
Before we humans became the stewards of this beautiful planet, we were forced to fight for survival. Large predators were both a vital food source and a deadly threat. As such, our brains hardwired themselves to react to stressful situations by releasing large amounts of hormones meant to get our hearts pumping and our minds more focused.
While this mechanism was initially essential for our survival as a species, it now poses a problem for modern people. Because most of us are no longer fending off large predatory animals or hunting game for sustenance, the "fight or flight" response exhibits itself as unmanageable stress. Whether you're working to meet a deadline, trying to make it home through endless traffic, having an argument with your spouse, or completing rigorous coursework, your brain is sending out an alarm that triggers the typical stress response.
On the one hand, the flood of epinephrine and cortisol can make it easier for you to concentrate, allowing you to work with a higher level of focus. But on the other hand, repetitive triggering of the "fight or flight" response can lead to many health problems, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, and bruxism.
Legal and illegal drug use can both lead to bruxism. Legal drugs like tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol all contribute to bruxism. Smoking irritates the gums and can lead to serious dental issues, with most smokers grinding their teeth because of nicotine withdrawal or poor gum health. Caffeine raises the heart rate and creates a somewhat artificial stress response within the body. Bruxism occurs in those who drink alcohol for two straightforward reasons. Firstly, alcohol destroys your gums over time and can lead to periodontal disease or worse. Secondly, people tend to drink to avoid their stress, so those who consume alcohol are already prone to developing this issue.
It is also important to note that people who take illegal drugs, such as MDMA, are at high risk for bruxism as well. MDMA may make the user feel energetic and compassionate, but once the drug's effects have worn off, the user experiences a colossal crash. This period of feeling "low" is often accompanied by bruxism, as the stressed-out drug user attempts to find a replacement high to feel normal again.
POOR DENTAL HEALTH
Though bruxism can lead to poor dental health, it can also start with it. Those with an abnormal bite, or misaligned teeth, can experience natural teeth grinding as they talk. It may take constant effort to keep the jaw relaxed enough to keep teeth from rubbing against one another. Though the causes for an abnormal bite vary, one of the leading causes is, ironically, bruxism.
Also, crooked or broken teeth can cause bruxism as well. Any unevenness that creates friction within your mouth or jaw is sure to lead to teeth grinding, so proper dental care is critical to avoiding bruxism.
ARE THERE ANY HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH BRUXISM?
There are a surprising number of health risks associated with bruxism. They range from immediate, short-term effects to costly long-term risks. Because bruxism is often caused by and associated with stress, the health risks related to stress also apply to many who suffer from teeth grinding.
Let's explore the short-term and long-term effects of grinding your teeth.
- Jaw pain
- Jaw stiffness
- Irritated gums
- Poor sleep
- Dry mouth (Stress)
- Upset stomach (Stress)
- High blood pressure (Stress)
- Broken or loose teeth
- Popping or clicking jaw
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Obesity (Stress)
- Heart disease (Stress)
HOW DO I STOP GRINDING MY TEETH?
To avoid costly dental bills and months or years of unnecessary pain, it is imperative that you identify the cause and type of your bruxism. Those who only grind their teeth while awake will find it easier than those who suffer through the night, but no matter what kind of bruxism affects you, there is a solution.
LEARN TO COPE WITH STRESS
Managing stress in a healthy, productive way is the first step to rooting out bruxism. If you are struggling to deal with stress from work, home, friends, family, or anywhere else, the best thing that you can do for yourself if exercise and meditate.
Exercise allows you to expend all that extra "fight or flight" energy, leaving you far more relaxed when you're done. Exercise also encourages the release of dopamine, the "feel-good" drug your brain manufactures and produces when things are going well. So, not only can you burn off some energy and get a little more fit and healthy, but you can also feel way happier about doing so!
Meditation allows us time to reconnect with ourselves. Because so many people find themselves rushing from point A to point B from the moment they wake until the moment they sleep, meditation can be crucial to maintaining emotional and mental health. By taking a few minutes to breathe deeply, and visualizing positive environments and situations, you can lower your blood pressure and learn to relax, preventing a nightly case of bruxism.
UNDERGO A MEDICAL PROCEDURE
If the cause of your bruxism is physical malformation, such as an abnormal bite, you might consider dental procedures to correct that misalignment. Corrective jaw surgery may seem like a drastic solution until you consider the long-term risks of bruxism.
The sooner that you seek medical care, the healthier and happier your smile will be. Don't force yourself to go through endless, sleepless nights and daily pain in your jaw, face, or neck. If there is a medical solution to your bruxism, seek it out immediately.
Exercise and meditation do not work for everyone. Some do not have the time, while others do not find it very useful. If this is the case with you, speak with your primary care physician about taking a muscle relaxant to help your body relax before bed.
Muscle relaxants do tend to be addictive, so this solution should only be used in cases where there is no other alternative. Can be used in conjunction with exercise and meditation to aid the sufferer as they transition into better coping mechanisms.
PROTECT YOUR TEETH
Hopefully, we were able to tell you what causes teeth grinding, and how to solve it. The most popular solution for nighttime bruxism sufferers is the mouth guard. Also known as an occlusal splint, a mouth guard covers the teeth and palate comfortably, reducing the motion exhibited during sleep.
Mouth guards are available nearly everywhere, from your local pharmacy and department store to thousands of online retailers. While a mouth guard may not prevent bruxism, it can protect your jaw and teeth from pain and wear, and it is the most recommended solution to nighttime bruxism.