There are lots of phrases you don’t want to hear from your dentist. The wisdom teeth have got to go. Looks like you’ve got a loose crown. Wow! That’s the biggest cavity I’ve ever seen! But for some reason dentists get the most backlash when we say, “You’ve really been grinding your teeth!”
Here in Olathe, some of our patients are ready to go to the grave swearing they don’t grind their teeth. Why? I think many people misunderstand bruxism. What is bruxism? It is a dental condition caused by teeth grinding and/or jaw clinching. For many patients this condition takes place while they are sleeping, making them completely unaware that they suffer from bruxism. The signs of teeth grinding are plain to see, and the solution is usually simple.
Most of the reasons people insist that they can’t be grinding their teeth can be debunked by science. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- I sleep with my mouth open.
Teeth grinding occurs in short bursts, with most episodes lasting thirty seconds to a minute. Each episode can do significant damage to your teeth, and most people have multiple episodes per night. They add up! Even if you spend most of the night with your mouth open (difficult to verify, by the way), the ten to fifteen minutes that you spend grinding your teeth leaves a mark.
- I snore all night, so I can’t possibly grind my teeth.
This common variation on the “open mouth” theory doesn’t stack up, scientifically speaking. Snoring and sleep disorders associated with snoring disrupt deep sleep, bringing you up into a phase of lighter sleep. And these light sleep phases are where teeth grinding goes down. If you think about it, snoring actually places you at higher risk for grinding your teeth.
- My jaws and teeth don’t hurt when I wake up.
Many people think that you’re bound to wake up with a fierce headache from grinding your teeth, but that’s not the case. Jaw and tooth pain actually come from clenching your teeth. Yes. There’s a difference. Teeth clenching occurs when the jaws are pressed so tightly that the teeth can’t move. Clenching isn’t so bad for your teeth, but it does leave your bones and muscles sore when you wake up. Teeth grinding occurs when you squeeze your jaws and rub your teeth back and forth. Grinding does a number on your teeth, but since you’re not squeezing your jaws as tight as a clencher would, you might not feel the ill effects when you wake up.
- I’m not under any stress, so I have no reason to grind my teeth.
First of all, good for you! You are a rare and lucky person if you’re not under any form of stress. Second, while it’s true that stress can trigger teeth grinding, they don’t always go together. Children, for example, are more likely to grind their teeth than adults despite their carefree lifestyle. And caffeine drinkers are prone to teeth grinding with or without stress.
- Something else made my teeth look this way.
Teeth grinding creates a very distinct look. Often, the teeth are worn down from rubbing each other so that they look like interlocking puzzle pieces. No other force known to dentistry can do that. Exposed dentin (the dark center of your tooth) is another dead giveaway that you’ve been grinding. The enamel on the outside of your tooth is 15% harder than bone, so wearing through the enamel takes years of serious force, much more than eating a lemon or drinking a soda could do. Teeth that are significantly shorter and flatter than normal have probably also been subject to grinding. Given enough time, grinding can take a centimeter or more off your tooth!
So you grind your teeth – now what? First, we suggest that you schedule an appointment to see your dentist. The solution could be as simple as using a night guard. Can you ride this whole grinding thing out? We strongly don’t advise it. There could be underlying health issues that are causing you to grind your teeth.
- Grinding doesn’t go away on its own.
You might think that you will stop grinding your teeth when a particular source of stress goes away–or even that you can train yourself not to grind your teeth. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Grinding quickly becomes a habit, and since you’re asleep during grinding, it’s not a habit you can break with your amazing will power.
- There could be something else going on.
Your dentist can determine if something else is going on causing you to grind your teeth. Sleep disorders, health issues, temporomandibular (TMJ), and more severe dental problems can also lead to teeth grinding. Which is why we highly recommend for you to go visit your dentist.
- A night guard is less expensive than braces or implants.
A custom-made night guard will cost you much less than braces or implants. If you get the night guard early on, you can stop grinding in its tracks and protect your teeth from damage. If you don’t protect your teeth, they will become crooked and misshapen over time. They might even become painful, if they’re ground down too close to the pulp. Repairing these types of structural issues requires braces, implants, or other procedures. All total, you could spend anywhere from $5000 to $40000 trying to get your beautiful smile back.
If you think you might be grinding your teeth or clinching your jaw, we highly recommend you scheduling an appointment to see Dr. Hahn or Dr. Driscoll. If you are not able to come see us here in Olathe, Kansas, please find a local dentist that can help.