Enamel—the protective covering on the outside of your teeth—happens to be one of the strongest materials in the body. Unfortunately, it does have its limits, and it can be cracked or chipped from either a strong blow or repeated wear and tear from teeth grinding (also known as bruxism). The majority of people grind their teeth and clench their jaw from time to time. However, in many cases, stress causes people to grind their teeth at night while sleeping, or while concentrating. Unfortunately, there are no obvious symptoms to this.
Think you might be suffering from chronic teeth grinding? Keep reading for a rundown of teeth grinding symptoms, what you can do to stop grinding your teeth at night, and how a dentist can help you stop grinding your teeth altogether.
Causes of Teeth Grinding
While the reason behind your teeth grinding may not always be clear, it is generally linked to factors such as problems sleeping, anxiety, or stress. Stress and anxiety, in fact, are the most common causes of teeth grinding. Snoring or having a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea) also makes you likely to grind your teeth. Finally, teeth grinding can occur as a result of taking certain medicines—especially antidepressants—or lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking, too much caffeine, or using recreational drugs.
Teeth Grinding Symptoms
As teeth grinding generally occurs at night, you may be wondering how you can recognize when you are doing it. The symptoms are not usually obvious, and you may not immediately associate them with teeth grinding, but they do occur. Teeth grinding symptoms include:
- Headaches and earaches
- Facial pain
- Achy, stiff jaw
- Disrupted sleep
- Increased sensitivity of teeth
Tooth Damage Due to Teeth Grinding
Damage to your teeth is one of the more obvious problems associated with teeth grinding. The enamel is damaged, and since it contains no nerves or living cells, it cannot repair itself. When this damage occurs, craze lines (which are superficial hairline cracks or stress fractures) will eventually occur almost every time. This can bring about serious consequences for your oral health.
Under the enamel, there is a dense layer inside the tooth called dentin. Under this layer, a soft tissue called “pulp” (where the tooth’s network of blood vessels and nerves lives) can be found. When the enamel is damaged, these deeper layers within your teeth are left without the protective layer they so heavily rely on, opening them to attacks from bacteria, acids, and chemicals. Furthermore, with the enamel broken down and teeth cracking, any motion of the jaw and mouth can cause the pulp to move around, which will then irritate it further. This, alongside the bacteria that is likely to infect these areas, can cause irreparable damage.
There is a lot of information here about the parts of the teeth and how they can be affected by teeth grinding. However, to put it simply, grinding your teeth causes tooth damage that can put you at further risk of oral infections, erosion and decay of the teeth, periodontal and gum disease, and even tooth loss.
Other Potential Damage
Now that you’ve had an overview of the general damage that can occur from grinding your teeth, you may be asking some more probing questions, such as “Can grinding your teeth crack a filling?” or, “Can grinding your teeth cause a cavity?” Let’s discuss.
The short answer to question one is “yes.” Grinding your teeth can lead to cracked fillings because when you frequently grind your teeth, the friction will fracture your fillings over time. There are three common signs that a filling may be broken:
- The feeling of a sharp, sudden pain in response to a drastic change in temperature or biting pressure. This will go away after a few seconds, but you might find yourself steering clear of chewing on the side that is affected.
- Taking a bite of something hard and hearing a crack or feeling a small, hard object inside your mouth afterward.
- Feeling a hole, indentation, or crack on your tooth when you run your tongue over it. Additionally, the hole or crack might catch on the tongue or cheeks, causing them to become sore.
If any of the above signs happens to you, be sure to visit your dentist immediately to prevent any further damage to your tooth.
In answer to the second question, grinding your teeth does not directly cause cavities. Rather, cavities can occur from erosion of the enamel. With weakened enamel, sugar has a higher probability of penetrating the teeth. Sugar provides food for bacteria, which produces acid that dissolves the teeth, leading to decay and the formation of cavities. In itself, teeth grinding will not cause a cavity. However, as it can cause cracks and damage to the enamel, it may make your teeth more susceptible to the sugar and acid that will cause cavities.
How Do I Stop Grinding My Teeth at Night?
If you are grinding your teeth at night, you need to seek help from your dentist as soon as possible. This will help prevent you from establishing a problematic, long-term habit that can lead to cracked fillings, enamel erosion, and cavities (over time). A number of treatments exist that can decrease or eliminate teeth grinding.
One option that is typically used for teeth grinding is a nightguard. This device is similar to a retainer and is worn at night while sleeping to prevent grinding. Nightguards help to prevent the wear of teeth, reduce pain, and protect you against any further damage.
Other treatments include sleep hygiene and exercises for muscle-relaxation. Sleep hygiene helps set you up for a good night of sleep to minimize teeth grinding, while muscle-relaxation exercises are used to lull you into sleep peacefully and prevent you from holding tension in your jaw (and the rest of your body).
Finally, one additional treatment option is cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be used to help decrease the stress and anxiety that may be causing you to grind your teeth.
Can a Dentist Help Me Stop Grinding My Teeth?
Due to the pandemic, more people are grinding and cracking their teeth than ever before. In fact, the American Dental Association surveyed dentists and found that 70% of them have seen an uptick in the number of patients grinding their teeth as a result of stress. Fortunately, like us, these dentists are here to help.
If you notice that you have any teeth grinding symptoms, contact Dean Dental Solutions at (501) 271-3730 or request an appointment online today. We want to help you set up a treatment plan for your teeth grinding to keep your teeth healthy and prevent any damage to them. At Dean Dental Solutions, we make your comfort and care our first priority.