As stress seeps into the foundations of our lives, one of the symptoms we don’t tend to consider is teeth grinding. Bruxism, as it is known by health professionals, is when you grind, clench or chatter your teeth without realising. And for most of us, that tends to happen while we’re asleep – which means you won’t necessarily know you’re a grinder unless someone else tells you.
“Bruxism can cause headaches, jaw pain and migraines in severe cases,” orthodontist Dr Iain Hoeltschi tells HuffPost UK. “In addition, constant grinding at night can loosen and damage teeth, damaging your smile. Fillings, veneers and crowns are also worn down, exposing dental ailments and causing further pain.”
If left untreated, bruxism can ultimately result in teeth becoming flattened and worn to a point where they begin to crack and break.
So it’s important to not ignore the problem. People grind their teeth for different reasons: in many cases it’s due to stress or anxiety, but bruxism can also be caused by an irregular bite or missing teeth, as well as sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleep paralysis and snoring.
If you’re wondering whether you grind your teeth, red flags include frequent headaches, earache, sore gums, clicking of the jaw and unexplained damage to your teeth, explains Karen Coates, dental advisor for the Oral Health Foundation. Dentists can usually spot signs of wear and tear caused by bruxism, as lines begin to form along the top and bottom sets of teeth caused by the consistent clenching and movement.
How to stop grinding your teeth
The problem can be addressed in a number of ways. “There are a variety of splints and mouth guards which can be used to protect the teeth and lessen the jaw pressure while clenching and grinding,” says Dr Hoeltschi.
“Some of my patients who have been suffering from migraines for years find instant relief when using a sleep clench inhibitor (SCi), for example. The SCi reduces how intensely tiny muscles surrounding the jaw joints can tighten, reducing contact between the upper and lower teeth and preventing clenching.”
If you’re stressed it’s also worth implementing measures to reduce your stress and anxiety, notes Dr Hoeltschi, who is founder of Splash Orthodontics. “More often than not, bruxism is caused by psychological factors and addressing these with a psychotherapist may be an option to consider.”
[Read more: How to tell you’re stressed and what to do about it]
He also advises to practice good sleep hygiene – making your room dark and quiet, and a comfortable temperature, in preparation for a good night’s sleep – as well as getting the recommended eight hours per night.
If you have sleep apnoea, seeking treatment for the condition might also help reduce grinding. A study from 2002 found patients who used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine stopped grinding their teeth altogether.