When I examine a patient’s mouth, I often inform them “You have been grinding your teeth at night! If you’re grinding at night as well, please take a vacation – doctor’s orders!” We laugh, then get serious about what was just said. Common responses from patients include:
“How do you know that I grind my teeth?”
“Why do I grind my teeth?”
“I sleep with my mouth open; I do not grind my teeth!”
“Yes, I know, but I do not want to wear a night guard!”
Let’s have a discussion.
Teeth grinding is a multifactorial phenomenon, it can originate from bite problems, posture problems, stress, diet or even certain oral medications. You may experience one or multiple symptoms of night grinding, including sensitive teeth, receding gums, teeth chipping, teeth movement, flat teeth, broken teeth, damaged dental restorations (such as fillings), and even headaches and a sore jaw .
Usually, during the day, there is space between your upper and lower teeth – the teeth are not in contact, they come in contact only when they are being used to chew food. Eating food exerts approximately 5 – 10 pounds per square inch of loading force. This is normal and will not create wear and tear issues in the tooth structure. At night however, during sleep, facial muscle contractions (like the Masseter muscle) generate a much greater force, anywhere from 300 to 500 or even up to 1000 pounds per square inch of force! This is very powerful, and very destructive.
So how do we fix the problem? Management of night grinding can be approached from several angles. By wearing a night guard, immediate protection is provided when sleeping. The design of the night guard can be as simple as a thin coat of silicon rubber material which is custom-molded to fit over your teeth, or can be highly specialized to help realign your jaw when made from acrylic. Ask your dentist about this.
Grinding your teeth at night (bruxism) occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep, for light sleepers. If restful sleep can be induced, the REM cycle of sleep can be reduced, contributing to a more peaceful night for your mind and also your body (including your facial muscular system). This means less grinding!
Achieving restful sleep can be tricky, there are many techniques: meditation to clear your mind in preperation for a restful night of sleep, deep and slow breathing, and cutting out sugar and caffeine in the PM hours will all be helpful.