Teeth Grinding: Causes and Treatments

by Hyo Lim

“…there will the weeping and grinding of teeth be.” (Matt. 25:30, Byington)

teeth grindingA sign of the last days for many—and an epidemic of broken and worn teeth for dentists. Bible prophecy aside, there is a real dental health issue with people grinding their teeth. Young and old, male and female, abnormal wearing of teeth can present a variety of tooth and jaw problems. But what causes someone to grind their teeth and what damage can this activity create in the mouth?

The current research indicates that there are three main reasons why a person may grind and wear down teeth at an accelerated rate.

The way someone chews. Someone who chews more “like a cow” rather than chewing in a straight, chopping motion will tend to wear teeth more quickly.

Misalignment of teeth and/or jaws. A person with a crowded, uneven arrangement of teeth is more likely to have teeth that collide or rub unnecessarily when eating. Likewise, when jaws are aligned improperly, the teeth do not mesh well and wear down prematurely.

Bruxism. The term bruxism is used to identify grinding in people who do not exhibit the other two causes. Bruxism during waking hours may have a strong stress and anxiety link. Bruxism during sleep—associated with REM sleep and occurring periodically through the night—has now been determined to be a sleep-related movement disorder centered in the brain stem.

Although all reasons for grinding can cause worn teeth, temperature sensitivities, cracked teeth, dental work and jaw pain, the person with bruxism must deal with the consequences of uncontrolled, more intense periods of grinding.

Left untreated, more serious cases of grinding may lead to nerve death in teeth, extractions and temporomandibular joint disorders. Moreover, the risk of ignoring this situation may lead to more complicated and costly treatments.

Treatment options for abnormal teeth wear depend largely on the possible causes for the abnormal behavior.

If a person has a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease or an eating disorder, there will usually be multiple teeth with eroded enamel and dentin. Depending on the severity of damage, the affected teeth can be treated with fillings, bonding, veneers or crowns. In mild cases with intact, weakened enamel, the teeth can be strengthened by products that re-mineralize enamel.

For people who have teeth that are grinding or wearing down due to misalignment of teeth and/or jaw, the solution is best treated by orthodontics. Dentists and orthodontists can properly position the teeth and the jaw for the best functional alignment. This outcome will produce the ideal alignment for eating, speech and esthetics and minimize wear and tear on the teeth.

People who suffer from bruxism have some choices. Those with daytime bruxism can find relief from modalities to reduce stress and anxiety. For those with nighttime bruxism, there are medications that can reduce or minimize the intensity and frequency of grinding. Both day and nighttime grinding can also be treated with mouth pieces that attempt to slightly separate the jaw and place a protective layer of plastic between the teeth. This approach may not stop bruxism, but can ease the tension and pressure on the jaw joint and muscles and reduce wear and tear.

Those who suspect that they may have a grinding issue should consult a dental professional for an evaluation. As with any health issue, prevention is the best option and treating conditions early is the next best approach.

Dr. Hyo Lim, DMD, practices at Dental Wellness Centre, in King of Prussia. Connect with him at 610-265-4485 or DentalWellnessCentre.com. November 2015.


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