Teeth grinding, or Bruxism to give it its medical name, is an act that happens either nocturnally or diurnally – or to be more blunt, at night or during the day. It has come to be seen as a problem associated with sleep, even though it can happen at any time. The reason for this is that it is generally more problematic as a night-time issue. It doesn’t just affect the teeth, either. It can have negative medical effects over a wider area. To properly deal with all of the effects of the condition you may need to see both a doctor and a dentist.
Why is Bruxism seen as being something that affects us while we are sleeping? There are various reasons, but chief among them is that most people who grind their teeth during the day can at least stop themselves from doing it, whereas if it happens at night while the person is asleep it can happen uninterrupted for hours on end. Additionally, it can have a real knock-on effect on the quantity and quality of rest that you get at night. People who grind their teeth in their sleep may find themselves waking up more often, or getting up in the morning feeling weary and ill-rested.
How It Can Affect Sleep
When you go to bed, the sleep that you are getting is not just chasing away the day’s activity. This is the time your body and mind take to repair the wears and tears of the day just passed. It’s why you are advised to get bed rest when you are ill or injured; your body has more work to do, and does this while you are unoccupied. If you are clenching and grinding your teeth during the night, then the quality of sleep you will be getting is significantly diminished. You will wake up feeling sluggish, and you are more likely to feel other types of pain.
A significant number of people who grind their teeth while they sleep can wake up with jaw pain in the morning without knowing what has caused it. They may also wake up more often than not with a headache. The effects of this kind of pain can be long-lasting and extend beyond the area of the pain itself. Problems in your tempromandibular joint – the joint which hinges your jaw – can throw out your bodily alignment, and they are not the kind of problems that can be easily ignored. As for chronic headaches, we all know how unpleasant a headache is at the best of times.
Simply put, although grinding your teeth may not seem like much more than an annoying bad habit, it can very quickly turn into something that causes problems far beyond just being annoying. You may be able to ignore the process of grinding your teeth, but once you are doing it without realising, you could be causing yourself all sorts of problems; problems which many people never really get around to tracing back to the cause. To make an analogy, grinding your teeth may seem like a small rumbling, but even a small rumbling can set off a big avalanche.
Many of us don’t believe that grinding our teeth is that big of a problem, reasoning that our teeth are made of enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. And after all, don’t our teeth close together when we eat? To the first point, our teeth are made of a tough substance and that is fine when we are biting through food, but when you’re rubbing them against other teeth it’s another matter. To the second point, our teeth do indeed close together when we eat. They do this for a fraction of a second, not the several minutes that can occur during Bruxism.
Why Do We Grind Our Teeth?
There can be a range of causes for Bruxism whether it is during the day or in your sleep. Of most immediate interest is stress. This is where doctors immediately focus because stress and suppressed anger are so often at the source of why people grind their teeth. If you are wound up, psychologists believe that grinding your teeth is a way of processing this suppressed anger, frustration or stress. This can become a cause-effect cycle which disrupts your sleep, and because your sleep has been disrupted you are more likely to grind your teeth.
Then again, unexplored or frustrated emotions may not have anything to do with why you are grinding your teeth. Some people grind their teeth for purely physical, medical reasons which may have gone ignored for some time. One reason that falls under this heading is the abnormal alignment of a person’s teeth. When the top and bottom rows of teeth do not meet as they should – known as malocclusion – Bruxism can be an involuntary consequence of this. Dentists believe this to be a source of the problem in many patients.
How Bruxism Can Be A Sign Of Other Problems
If you discover that you are grinding your teeth during the night – with tell-tale signs such as the jaw pain and headaches in the morning, as mentioned above – is is advisable to go and see your doctor. As we have already seen, there can be many reasons why you are doing it, including stress and malocclusion. However, it can also be a result of another disease; studies have shown that people suffering from Parkinson’s or Huntingdon’s disease are likely to have incidences of Bruxism. While this is an outside possibility, it is wise to see a doctor and eliminate the possibility.
It is also not uncommon for people who are taking some medications to suffer with Bruxism. Certain psychiatric medications have been suggested as having a side-effect that makes people grind their teeth. Among these drugs are prominent anti-depressants. Other drugs, including stimulants both medical and recreational, have been known to cause Bruxism in users too. Research into this connection is as yet unpublished, but in many people’s eyes the incidence of Bruxism in people who use these drugs is too common to be mere coincidence.
Bruxism In Children
As children grow, the changes that take place are not without their complications – change can be gradual or sudden, and the adjustments that need to be made may not be obvious to a child. As far as Bruxism goes, it will happen when the teeth are still growing, as a baby tooth still growing or an adult tooth pushing through can cause discomfort in the gum. As well as this, there is the fact that while the teeth are growing they may not fit together as they should; as we have seen above, Bruxism may result from this.
The good news is that children will tend to outgrow teeth grinding in sleep. As the changes take place, the causes of infant or adolescent Bruxism are likely to mend themselves naturally. However, if the grinding of teeth is causing other problems it is wise to get it checked out by a doctor or a dentist, as there are things that can be done to at least diminish the ill effects.
You should always speak to a doctor if you or your children have problems with Bruxism. The effects and potential complications that arise from the condition can go far beyond the inconvenience and discomfort that it generally causes to any sufferer. It can be a symptom of something as well as a cause, and knowing the difference between the two is not a simple matter. A doctor can get to the bottom of why you are grinding your teeth and, in doing so, can look at how to treat the issue – before complications set in and make things worse.
Teeth Grinding Complications
We already know about two of the major complications caused by grinding your teeth in your sleep; chipped and worn-down teeth as well as the deeply unpleasant headaches which can result. But there are further complications which make it all the more important that you deal with the problem as quickly and as proactively as possible. Delaying treatment can allow more complications to set in or make existing complications all the more troublesome. The swift treatment of the condition will offer immediate relief as well as pushing aside the risk of further and worse complications.
People who suffer with headaches as a result of Bruxism are also likely to have facial pain. This is understandable. The cause of the problem is taking place right there in your mouth, and the pain can extend to the head. Therefore it only makes sense that there will be pain in your face too. This pain is bad enough as a primary symptom but it is also an indicator of muscular strain which, if allowed to continue, can do extensive damage to the muscles in your face. Cosmetically this can further result in the facial skin becoming compromised with wrinkles and sagging.
TMJ disorders can also result from Bruxism. You can feel the temporomandibular joint if you place a hand on either side of your head and move your jaw up and down. The TMJ is the hinge that allows this, and it is a somewhat complicated joint. Although it allows sideways movement – indeed, it has to for a number of reasons – it is more conditioned for up and down movement. If you move the jaw excessively from side to side, whether for a long duration or with excessive force, then it will eventually begin to have problems.
TMJ disorders are most likely to occur in the jaw, bringing with them pain and a lack of elasticity in the region. They can also however have negative effects further out and can leave you more prone to infection in the region, including ear problems which can cause havoc if left untreated. You may lose some of your hearing with recurrent ear infections. The further that a TMJ complaint goes, the more problems it will cause and the more severe those problems will become. They may even persist for years, so it is wise to get to them at the source.
One final complication of teeth grinding is that your bite will be affected. Because of the persistent grinding, your teeth will lose sharpness and you may also suffer pain and experience a “squeaking” noise as you eat. This tends to lead to an unconscious decision to change the way you bite, which can affect your diet and your appetite. You may as a result lose some key nutrients from your diet, which once again comes with its own problems. It is obviously a more severe concern in children, who will be denied nutrients which are essential for growing young humans.
As is visible from everything listed above, Bruxism may start as a bad habit and an annoyance for you or those close to you, but it can become the cause of chronic health problems. If left unchecked, it is as good as certain that it will cause such problems. While it remains merely an annoyance you may be reluctant to do very much about it, but if left until it becomes a serious problem then you will find that it is a lot more difficult and often more expensive to get the treatment you need at the time you need it.
If you find that you are clenching your teeth on a frequent basis, then you are best advised to get to the source of the problem as soon as you can and put a stop to it before it becomes the cause of more serious issues. Speak to your doctor about Bruxism and its complications and make sure that you don’t let teeth grinding in sleep become a chronic problem that needs the attention of specialists. If you stop it early on it need never become a major issue. It is essential that you nip it in the bud rather than letting it become something worse.
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