“Grinding your teeth is often a symptom of an obstructed airway,” says Kaitie Beetner, DDS, board member for oral care brand Before. “Not having a clear airway significantly impacts the quality of your sleep and thus impacts the overall quality of life.”
And while bruxism is commonly believed to be happening exclusively at night, Whitney DiFoggio, registered dental hygienist and founder of Teeth Talk Girl, warns that it can happen throughout the day as well. “Our teeth tend to be more damaged with night grinding, as opposed to day grinding, [though] due to the force that is applied when we sleep,” she says. According to the Sleep Foundation, people who grind their teeth at night can exert up to 250 pounds of force.
How our bodies tell us we’re grinding our teeth at night
The most common sign of any sort of grinding or clenching comes in the form of a headache and/or jaw ache, however, there are other things to be looking out for. DiFoggio says flattened, fractured, chipped, or loose teeth, worn tooth enamel, increased teeth sensitivity, neck pain, pain that resembles an earache, and cuts insides of your cheeks from biting are also ways your body is telling you that you’re grinding your teeth at night. For myself, I tend to wake with noticeable ridging on my inner cheek tissue, another thing to look out for says Dr. Beetner.
While morning headaches and/or jaw aches are signs of clenching and grinding teeth, DiFoggio says they can also be indicative of other underlying problems that should be evaluated by your dentist. “If the underlying problem falls outside the dental scope and requires medical attention, your dentist can refer you to a medical specialist," she says.
I’m grinding my teeth at night. What should I do?
Like any overuse injury, grinding can be harmful in both the short and long term. “There is nothing good that comes from grinding your teeth,” says Dr. Beetner. “Grinding your teeth will damage your teeth, strain your facial muscles, and could damage the jaw joint and cause [temporomandibular disorders] TMD too.” TMJ jaw pain is one common type of TMD.
Research on bruxism is still quite limited, but both experts say it’s important to try and pinpoint the root cause of the grinding. “For example, stress—once you treat the cause and implement stress-reduction techniques, there’s a chance you will also stop the grinding habit,” says DiFoggio.
In the meantime, mouthguards and other devices can help mitigate any damage, but they’re not suitable in all circumstances, according to Dr. Beetner. Your best bet is to speak to your dental professional so they can help you with a custom treatment plan to fit your specific needs.
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