Do you often awake in the morning, or even in the middle of the night with the sense that maybe you have been clenching your jaws? And perhaps you’re one of the unfortunate folks to also get frequent clenching or grinding related headaches? Who knew? . . . You’re a night grinder.
Also called by dentists “nocturnal bruxism” (now that’s a mouthful!) night teeth grinding is more than a nuisance, it’s doing you real damage. It can affect your jaw joints, your right and left temporomandibular joints or TMJ. It can even affect the integrity of your tooth structure, your enamel and underlying dentin, often resulting in multiple teeth becoming sensitive to cold liquids. Sometimes, however, the bruxism can cause hidden cracks in your teeth (just Google “Cracked Tooth Syndrome”) or outright fractures of large portions of your teeth, both of which require a crown if the damage can be repaired, or sadly tooth removal if it cannot.
And bruxism is far more common than you would imagine.
If you have the side to side grinding movements with your jaws, you will show some tooth wear, first on the back teeth, and later on the front teeth. But if you just exert up and down vertical forces, you may not show any wear at all. No wonder then, you have been having a hard time figuring out what is going on!
In fact, most patients do not have a clue when they show up at the dentist’s office with a complaint of widespread thermal tooth sensitivity, usually to cold liquids. They will often even deny grinding, usually mentioning sleeping with their mouth open due to habit or snoring (Hint: In a nighttime of sleep there are different things happening at different times during the various sleep cycles). Or the fact that their spouses never mention it (Hint: Childhood grinding may make a noise, but adult grinding rarely does!). But your dentist can usually figure things out following a few questions and after a brief examination.
Sometimes we can even demonstrate to you how your teeth are actually mobile (somewhat loose) due to this clenching or grinding. If you want to try yourself just put your right forefinger against your top teeth, close, clench and then grind side to side. Do you feel any movement? Unless you have really advanced gum disease with bone loss, this usually means you are currently clench grinding.
If you just performed that self-test, you probably noticed that it was uncomfortable for you even in the limited timeframe of less than 10 seconds.
And this was with your “awake mode protective instincts” in place to keep you from hurting yourself. Imagine then that the nighttime forces are several times this intensity and often last for many minutes on end and you’ll understand what your teeth and jaws are up against!
Need another piece of proof? Do you have any “wear” notches at the neck of any of your teeth, sometimes shaped like a “V”?
These are called by dentists “abfractions”, or “cervical tooth erosion” and over time as they get larger and larger, these defects can greatly affect the integrity of the tooth structure.
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