Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling pain in your jaw and the furthest thing from refreshed? These are signs that you could be suffering from bruxism, or chronic teeth grinding that can lead to serious dental issues if not addressed and treated correctly.
Teeth grinding is often thought to occur due to excessive stress levels, but that’s not the only trigger. Some common causes include:
- Stress or anxiety
- An abnormal bite
- Missing or crooked teeth
But you’ve probably never heard that grinding your teeth is a survival method.
When you sleep, your body goes through light and heavy cycles of consciousness. During the deepest parts of sleep, your body engages in processes to repair damage that results in you feeling refreshed the following day, but it also can result in some breathing issues. When you reach the deepest point of sleep, the entire body relaxes, including the heavy jaw which falls back towards the neck. Second, the tongue expands to almost twice its size, further inhibiting the airway. This is called “obstructive sleep apnea,” and the brain responds to this blockage by engaging the jaw to open the airways and to allow you to continue breathing.
The upside is that you can breathe. The downside is that you sleep terribly.
Though teeth grinding is life-saving in some circumstances, it does have negative effects such as:
- Dull headache after sleeping
- Tooth damage from wear (fractures, loosening, loss)
- TMD/TMJ complications
- Facial changes
- Severe pain
- Exhaustion due to never reaching deep sleep
In order to address teeth grinding, it’s important to visit your dentist to see if your bite or missing teeth can be corrected to avoid further grinding. If you do not have missing teeth or an incorrect bite, your grinding might be a result of non-dental problems related to a blocked airway which can be treated with mild lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking. More aggressive treatment includes visiting a doctor to inquire about Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). No matter the cause, teeth grinding is a problem that can lead to serious dental problems and should be addressed as soon as the symptoms persist.