Night time tooth grinding or clenching is a sleep disorder also known as ‘bruxism’. Adults that grind or clench their teeth at night may have generalised sensitivity to their teeth and may also wake up with headaches, sore jaw joints, sore jaw muscles or chipped and worn teeth. Occasionally, there are no symptoms.
Working through COVID, I noticed in my patients a marked increase in the prevalence of night time tooth grinding and/or clenching and its associated effects.
What causes night time grinding?
- The causes of night time grinding are not well understood. It occurs much more frequently in children, but most will outgrow it by the age of 12.
- Most people who grind or clench their teeth at night do not do so every night – even just a few minutes here and there over a few months can cause long term damage to the teeth and surrounding structures.
Who is at risk for night time tooth grinding?
- Several factors are associated with night time tooth grinding/clenching:
- Certain medications
- Hereditary factors
- Airway problems
- Untreated bite issues
- Alcohol and some recreational drugs
- Certain neurologic disorders
What can I do to minimise my risk of night time tooth grinding/clenching?
- Diagnose and address any bite or airway issues
If tooth grinding or clenching is being caused by an obvious airway or bite issue, this needs to be treated primarily through a sleep specialist and/or orthodontic treatment
- Protect the teeth and jaw joints by having a custom night guard made
If there are any signs of night time grinding or clenching – either current or historic- on the teeth, it is recommended to wear a custom fitted night guard to protect the teeth from further wear and future fracture. The type and design of the guard is dictated by the individual circumstances.
In general, a soft, flexible guard is sufficient for patients who have signs of damage to the teeth but no muscle soreness or other symptoms. For patients who are experiencing pain in the muscles and/or jaws along with damage to the teeth, a harder rigid guard is generally more suitable.
- Manage stress
Any lifestyle changes that minimise stress can help to reduce the incidence or severity of night time clenching or grinding. This can include having a warm bath before bed, self-massage of the jaw muscles, warm compress on the jaws for 20min before bed, meditation, avoiding excessive alcohol and/or recreational drug consumption and generally being more compassionate with oneself – physically and emotionally.
- Manage the symptoms of tooth grinding/clenching with adjunctive therapy
Adjunctive treatment modalities such as physiotherapy can also help alleviate muscle and jaw symptoms along with a custom night guard to physically protect the teeth.
Therapeutic muscle relaxants can also be used to effectively alleviate jaw and neck muscle pain related to night time tooth grinding/clenching.
As a lot of the signs of night time tooth grinding/clenching are subtle, it is important to have your teeth checked periodically with your dentist so they can pick up early signs and prevent fractures and long term damage to your teeth and associated structures. In these stressful times, early intervention and prevention is ideal.