Do you ever wake up with an achy jaw or a headache, or notice popping or clicking in your jaw when you open and close your mouth? If so, you may be grinding your teeth at night. Teeth grinding need not become a serious dental problem, but in severe cases it can cause misalignment of teeth, which can promote gum disease.
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, most often occurs at night. Although it is often linked to stress, bruxism can be caused by sleep disorders or by mechanical problems with the teeth, such as missing or broking teeth or a misaligned bite.
It’s important to tell your dentist if you think you have been grinding your teeth so he or she can pay special attention to signs of damage to the tooth enamel. Many people have bruxism that is mild and doesn’t need a specific treatment, but if the clenching or grinding is severe, a dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night to protect your teeth and help prevent further damage.
If your bruxism is due to physical problems such as misaligned or broken teeth, your dentist may have some suggestions for how to correct these problems with crowns or braces, or other techniques that may help resolve the grinding. If your bruxism is caused by stress, it’s important to try to identify the stressors and try to find ways to relax, including jaw-specific physical therapy, meditation and exercise. For some tooth grinders, muscle relaxants help control the problem.
In some cases, teeth grinding isn’t due to stress or poor tooth alignment. Bruxism can be a side effect of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Certain types of psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, also can trigger bruxism.