I talk to my patients all the time about grinding and clenching their teeth, but do they really know what that is and why it is bad? Do they understand why the need a nightguard? Sometimes I think they do but other times I wonder. So, I thought I would take a moment to explain it here.
First of all, what is the difference between grinding and clenching? Well, grinding is when a person rubs their teeth together over and over wearing them down over time. Clenching is when a person holds their teeth together very tightly over a period of time. Grinding causes excessive wear on the teeth and sore muscles and headaches. Clenching causes sensitive teeth, tooth chips and fractures, sore muscles and headaches. Clenching and grinding are grouped together under the term ‘bruxism.’
What causes it? Well, that is a great question. Most of us who grind or clench do so when we are sleeping. We are unconscious so we aren’t aware of what is causing us to do this. There are many theories out there but it remains to be seen if we have an overactive muscle, a bite discrepancy, a sleep-breath disorder or just a subconscious habit. I personally think it is likely a combination of a lot of factors. One thing I know for sure about clenching and grinding is that stress exacerbates it. I cannot tell you how many of my patients come in during or after periods of stress in their lives (global pandemic anyone?) and tell me that their teeth are sore, their jaw is sore or that they have been having more headaches. These are classic symptoms of grinding or clenching!
So what do we do about it? Since we don’t know what truly causes it, we cannot stop you from doing it. But we can manage it. My favourite treatment option is a night guard because it is a non-permanent option that protects your teeth. They are simple to use and last for years depending on the extent of your grinding or clenching. Most patients find them quite comfortable, once they get used to wearing them. Some other treatment options are eliminating stress from your life (if you figure out how, please let me know!), physiotherapy, massage therapy, orthodontics to realign your teeth and Botulinum Toxin-A therapy (better known as Botox or Dysport).
What is a night guard? It is a custom acrylic appliance made to fit around your teeth on one arch (usually the top teeth) that you wear while you are sleeping. The hard acrylic helps to distribute your clenching or grinding forces throughout your mouth so that you cannot take your stress out on specific teeth. It won’t stop you from doing it, but it will help protect your teeth. Most people find that it helps with their sensitivity, jaw soreness and headaches as well. For those that it doesn’t, we then look into adding other treatment modalities in to help with that like sensitivity toothpastes, massage, orthodontics or Botox therapy.
Not sure if you grind or clench? Take note over the next few days if you are waking up with tight or sore jaw muscles, sensitive teeth or headaches. Look at your teeth. Do they look worn? Are your canine teeth pointy or flat? They should be pointy. If they are flat, you have likely ground them down over the years. Still not sure? Ask us the next time you are in for a check up and we can help you determine if you are clenching and grinding and if a night guard would be a good prevention idea for your teeth. Remember, these are the last set of teeth you grow so you want to protect them as best you can for as long as you can!