Do you often wake up with a mysteriously aching jaw? Have a habit of clenching your face when you’re tense, anxious or angry?
If so, you could be one of the world’s many teeth-grinders. Not entirely sure what that means? Sink your gnashers into our guide…
Medically speaking, teeth grinding is known as ‘bruxism’, a term that covers conscious and involuntary grinding of the upper and lower teeth against one another, and clenching of the jaw. While grinding usually happens at night, and jaw clenching is more common during the day, there are no hard and fast rules.
According to the NHS in the UK, roughly six million people in Britain are affected by teeth grinding, with most cases arising in people aged 25 to 44. That’s not to say people outside this bracket don’t grind their teeth, the condition can affect everyone, even small children. However, it’s a problem that can come and go, rather than stubbornly stick around indefinitely.
Aside from a poor night’s sleep and an aching jaw in the morning, grinding your teeth can also cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including headaches and earache, stiff shoulders (from all that jaw clenching), joint stiffness, facial pain and, even more worryingly, considerable damage to your teeth. It can wear down enamel and, in bad cases, the tooth itself, which can result in shortened teeth, receding gums, sensitivity, and, if gone untreated, teeth and fillings can become loose and fall out.
The reason bouts of teeth grinding can come and go is because it is commonly related to stress, anxiety, or periods of deep concentration. In fact, 70% of cases of sleep bruxism are triggered by stress or anxiety. However, it can also be caused by certain medications, particularly antidepressants, recreational drugs, excess caffeine, alcohol and some sleep disorders.
To protect your teeth from damage, dentists often prescribe plastic night guards to be worn over teeth while asleep, but it’s also wise to tackle the cause behind the grinding. For example, meditation, yoga and cognitive behavioural therapy can all help you to manage and relieve stress. Always speak to your dentist if you have any concerns, or if you think you might be grinding your teeth.