It’s easy to joke about stressful situations that make you want to tell people that “you’re ready to start grinding your teeth” but doing the painful act isn’t amusing at all—especially when you’re not even aware that it’s taking place.
While occasional teeth grinding, also called bruxism, might not seem like much of a problem, grinding regularly can not only be a symptom of negative health conditions such as TMJ but can lead to health concerns.
Waking or sleeping bruxism is commonly thought of as primarily stress-related, but there can actually be a variety of other causes, from genetics to age to certain medications. Smoking or caffeine can contribute, as well as TMJ or certain sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
However, the ‘why’ is sometimes less critical than identifying the signs of grinding teeth, and how to treat it. The longer grinding takes place, the more likely it can cause damage and impact overall health.
Common teeth grinding symptoms include:
Jaw pain – Chronic teeth grinding can cause aches as your teeth push against each other. This can progress to neck pain and even headaches. Waking up in the morning or even in the middle of a sleep cycle with this level of pain on a regular basis can soon make you feel tired and grumpy.
Chipped teeth – Grinding regularly with strong force can hurt your teeth and can cause chips or loosening. Besides often being noticeable and potentially painful, this type of dental damage to the tooth surface can expose deeper layers and increase the risk of infection and cavities.
Yellow teeth – Grinding can also eventually discolor your teeth. This particular condition is caused by constant pressure on the tooth enamel from the other teeth which affects inner layers and prematurely ages the teeth.
Visit your dentist if you think you’re grinding your teeth at night. Your dentist will look at your mouth and jaw alignment to suggest various solutions.
If the well-meaning but not so applicable advice to “stress less” doesn’t work, your dentist will often recommend a mouth guard. This device is inserted at night and blocks your teeth from touching other teeth while you sleep and absorbs much of the force of your teeth pushing into your jaw or teeth. Mouth guards can also open airways to relieve sleep apnea.