The clinical term of teeth grinding is called bruxism, and in most cases, people are unaware they do this as it usually occurs in their sleep. It’s one of the most common sleep disorders because it’s an unconscious neuromuscular activity.
Figures cited by the National Sleep Foundation suggest that 8 per cent of adults and between 14 and 20 per cent of children under 11 years grind their teeth at night. But some doctors suspect that number is much higher, as many people don’t even realise they do it while sleeping.
Grinding can wear down teeth, which can become short, blunt or even develop fractures over time.
It can lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- Jaw pain and stiffness
- Sore gums
- Sensitive, loose or broken teeth
- Stress fractures in teeth
- Clicking or popping of jaw joints
- Dull headache
- Anxiety, depression
Why it happens
In children, grinding usually happens after the first teeth appear, and again when the permanent teeth emerge. It usually stops once the adult teeth fully erupt. However, if adults are still grinding their teeth many years on, there could be some lifestyle reasons.
These could be:
Research suggests stress and anxiety are the main reasons people grind their teeth. When we’re stressed, the bodies release large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, which increase our heart rates, pump our blood and boost energy levels. Some people can react with nail-biting, leg bouncing and fidgeting, while some people can grind their teeth.
Some studies have found that certain medicines which affect dopamine levels in the brain such as antidepressant medication can often cause insomnia and teeth grinding as a side-affect. Certain antihistamine drugs may also be linked to bruxism due to a disinhibitory effect they have on the part of the brain that controls sleep and circadian rhythms.
Alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes
Reports have suggested that sleep bruxism is twice as common in people who drink alcohol and smoke and almost 1.5 times higher in people who drink excessive amounts of coffee.
The theory suggests the lighter the sleeper or more restless you are in your sleeping patterns, the more likely you are to grind your teeth in your sleep. Sleep specialists have seen a reduction or no grinding at all when people are in deep sleep or in the dream phase of their sleep cycle.
In addition, because caffeine is a stimulant, chocolate, coffee, sugary drinks and other high-energy drinks may trigger muscle activity and lead to teeth grinding because it may contribute to lighter sleep patterns.
Jaw issues or genetics
According to dentists, most people who talk to their dentists about teeth grinding also report that they know of one or more family members who also grind their teeth. There is strong evidence that suggests teeth grinding could be hereditary. There could also be reasons of where the jaw isn’t aligned correctly or the bite doesn’t align which could be the reason the teeth hit each other or glide past each other in a grinding way.
If the top and bottom teeth do not come together properly, this is called an occlusal discrepancy and your dentist will be able to recommend treatment for this. While there is a lot of research done on this topic, the researchers are yet to find an actual “bruxism” gene in DNA.
Your dentist will be able to suggest a treatment plan if it’s dental related, but otherwise, your GP may need to refer you to a physical therapist or sleep specialist if it is nocturnal bruxism. There is no cure for bruxism, but options are available to relieve symptoms, and an underlying cause can be dealt with.
Some options could be:
- Getting enough sleep at night or exercising regularly may help.
- A dentist may be able to recommend a dental mouth guard which can be worn at night to protect the teeth. Generic sports mouthguards are not advised, as they can come out of place, can be very bulky and cause more discomfort than they solve.
- Avoiding foods and drinks that contain high concentrations of caffeine or alcohol may be beneficial, as these can increase grinding.
- Practice wind down methods before bed to encourage better sleep.
- For children, relaxation techniques like warm baths and bedtime stories before bed and reducing television and computer games right before bed.
Even if you are unsure whether bruxism is the cause, you should always mention your suspicions to your dentist. If you’re worried about teeth grinding for your children or yourself and what could be causing it, talk to one of our friendly staff at Withers Dental today!