Question: Are there any tested, proven treatments for grinding and clenching my teeth while asleep?
We talk about “gritted teeth” when someone’s determined, furious, or perhaps resigned to a course of action they’re not too happy about it.
Those with the teeth grinding or clenching habit — known as bruxism — do have a bit to be unhappy about.
It can be a pain (literally), make noises that keep your partner awake, lead to strange lumps growing in your gums, and be a costly dental problem.
Dentists call those who do this with their teeth “bruxers” and there are actually two classes: those who grind and clench while they’re awake (awake bruxers), and those who do it when they’re asleep (sleep bruxers).
We’re all likely to have episodes of teeth grinding at some point in our lives, says Professor Christopher Peck, Dean of Dentistry at the University of Sydney. But ongoing bruxism affects roughly one in 10 people.
And it seems those who practise this assault on their pearly whites when they’re asleep are more common than those who grind and clench when they go about their daily life.
A pain in the neck
Bruxers can experience jaw pain and tension because of the force the grinding applies to the jaw, and the discomfort may also spread to nearby parts of the body, producing neck pain or headaches.
Most people who grind their teeth only occasionally will never realise they do it. It’s usually only those who habitually grind and develop symptoms who tend to twig something is wrong.
If it continues long enough, teeth grinders can wear down their teeth, damaging them and removing protective enamel.
“Sometimes they will have tooth sensitivity because they’re wearing away the enamel of their teeth and so they’ll be sensitive to hot and cold food or drink,” Professor Peck said. (But bear in mind, there are other causes of sensitive teeth.)
And in severe cases, bruxers can lose a tooth.
“Absolutely, it is possible to crack or even lose teeth,” Professor Peck said.
Teeth grinding can also cause weird-looking bony growths to grow around your bottom teeth — known as tori mandibularis.
While these peculiar growths are in themselves harmless, some dentists recommend removing them as they may damage surrounding nerve tissue. They also make fitting mouthguards or dentures more difficult.
The growths can be a response to the loading of stress on teeth, but are also seen in people who don’t grind their teeth, Professor Peck says.
“And so it may actually be a mix of things; there may be a genetic component to it as well.”
How can you tell if you’re grinding your teeth?
For people who grind or clench their teeth when they’re awake, it can be a subconscious habit, but they’ll usually begin to recognise it once it’s pointed out.