We see many patients who demonstrate significant wear on the chewing surfaces of their teeth. This is often caused by bruxism, the grinding of teeth during sleep. Bruxism may be mild and not require treatment; however, it can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, and other problems.
Because you may clench or grind your teeth while you sleep and be unaware of it until complications develop, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms or bruxism and to seek regular dental care. Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
- Teeth that are worn down, flattened, fractured, or chipped
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Tired jaw muscles
- Earaches (caused by severe jaw muscle contractions)
Bruxism often exerts remarkably powerful forces on teeth, gums, and joints. Estimates put it at 3-10 times the force generated during chewing. While not a life-threatening condition, chronic bruxism often impairs the quality of life of affected individuals. Grinding or clenching breaks down the enamel – in chronic bruxers, this can occasionally reduce the teeth to stumps. Instead of a white enamel surface, one often sees the more yellowish and softer dentin. The back teeth often lose their contours, appearing flat, as if they had been worked over with a file or sandpaper.
As long as bruxism continues, the situation keeps getting worse. By 40 or 50 years of age, most bruxers have worn their teeth to the degree that extensive tooth restorations may be necessary.
Stress and anxiety are added risk factors for bruxism. In some people, irregularities in the bite can be a direct cause of tooth grinding.
To prevent damage of the teeth, it is important for people who grind their teeth to protect their teeth with a biteguard. If you have any of the signs or symptoms of bruxism, you should visit a dentist for a comprehensive evaluation before any further damage is done to your teeth.