One word: bruxism. Also known as teeth grinding. A lot of people suffer from this disorder unknowingly, as it usually occurs during sleep. And unless the constant racket of your grinding is keeping someone else up, you may not think your sore jaw, restless sleep and general fatigue are symptoms of bruxism. Left untreated, it could lead to painful or loose teeth, or teeth that are literally ground down, leaving worn surfaces or fractured enamel. The photographs at left are dramatic cases depicting what will happen when bruxism is left untreated.
While dentists can usually detect the telltale signs of wear on your teeth, if you suspect you might have a grinding problem, be sure to mention it at your next visit. Then you and your dentist can determine the cause and appropriate treatment of your problem.
A major cause of bruxism is stress. Since it’s probably not feasible to eliminate all sources of stress from your life, the best thing to do is learn to manage it better. Cut down on caffeine. Consider taking warm baths before bed. To help relax clenching muscles, apply a warm washcloth to the sides of your face. Try talking yourself out of the habit by placing little reminders around the house or repeating phrases that help you relax. And for Pete’s sake, try to lighten up a little. If this doesn’t do the trick, your dentist may recommend counseling, prescribe muscle relaxants for your jaw, or suggest physical therapy to alleviate muscle pain.
If an abnormal bite or crooked or missing teeth are causing you to grind, your dentist may treat your bruxism by removing the high spots on the problem teeth. In more serious cases, he or she will reshape or reconstruct the biting surfaces of the problem teeth with crowns or inlays. Another treatment involves wearing a plastic mouth guard at night to help prevent grinding. The custom-made guard keeps the upper and lower teeth from coming together, making it impossible for you to grind them.
If you want to get your grinding under control, talk to your dentist. With the proper treatment, he or she can help alleviate the pain in your jaw, improve your sleep, and return your energy level to normal.
This is a dramatic comparison
Look at the “before & after” side by side
Copyright 2001, California Dental Association, All Rights Reserved
Clinical photos — Copyright Dr-V.org, 2003, All Rights Reserved
Dr. Eric Vanek, d.d.s
Eric has been a practicing dental surgeon for over 20 years and is the owner of Vanek Dentistry, a family dental practice in Costa Mesa, CA.
Published September 11, 2014. Updated December 15, 2023