If you are just beginning to learn more about problems related to grinding your teeth, you have probably come across terms like clenching, grinding and bruxism. Bruxism is the medical term used to describe clenching and grinding. You may have even heard the term parafunctional habits, which in this context is a broader term used to describe these abnormal behaviors that occur with our teeth and jaws.

If you are affected by any of these issues, then first, congratulations on your effort to learn more and treat these problems, as they can disrupt sleep and permanently damage your teeth, gums and jaw. We’d like to try to help in this post by providing some basic information about the terms used to describe these issues, and some insight into what you can do if you are experiencing them.

Clenching is the most common parafunctional habit, and it affects many of us. It occurs when we hold our teeth together with our jaw muscles activated so that the upper and lower teeth are pressing against each other. You may find yourself clenching your teeth during periods of intense concentration, or when you are stressed or angry. Clenching becomes problematic when it occurs for extended periods of time.

Normal Teeth

Teeth grinding is similar to clenching, though it also involves moving the lower jaw when upper and lower teeth are pressed together. In addition to the musculature and ligament damage that can occur with clenching, teeth grinding also frequently causes wear facets (flattened parts of the teeth) where they are rubbing together.

Worn Teeth

This wear (often referred to as occlusal wear or attrition) diminishes the appearance of teeth, can potentially change the relationship between the upper and lower jaw, and wears away the outer enamel layer. Loss of enamel exposes the softer, yellowish dentin layer underneath, making teeth less attractive and more susceptible to decay.

Clenching and grinding cause other problems with your teeth and gums. Sometimes grinding forces are strong enough to crack teeth. These cracks can be small and not have any immediate impact, or they can be larger to the point where the tooth fractures. If this happens on the root of the tooth, it will likely need to be extracted and the dentist would probably recommend an implant to maintain appearance and support the bone in your jaw. Implants are expensive dental procedures.

Tooth extracted after cracking root
Healthy gums

Grinding and clenching can also cause gingival recession. This is when your gums shrink away from your teeth. Recession exposes more of your tooth, sometimes near the root if recession is severe. When your tooth is exposed near the root, it will make you more sensitive to hot and cold liquids and foods. Most people don’t like the appearance associated with gum recession, but even more serious may be the risk of tooth loss when gums recede.

Receding gums

Besides your teeth, the joint that connects your upper and lower jaw is significantly impacted by parafunctional habits like clenching and grinding. This joint is known as the TMJ, or temporomandibular joint. If your TMJ becomes damaged due to issues related to clenching or teeth grinding, you may have difficulty chewing or talking, or you may hear clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your jaw. Problems related to the TMJ are often abbreviated as “TMD”, which stands for Temporomandibular Disorder (or Dysfunction).

Irritation in TMJ

At first, we may not realize we are experiencing issues related to clenching and grinding our teeth. Often, we hear about them from a partner that lets us know we are audibly grinding our teeth at night, or from a dentist that notices symptoms such as wear or large jaw muscles associated with clenching and grinding.

If you wake up with headaches, a sore jaw or pain in your gums, hear clicking or popping when you move your jaw, or if you notice wear on your teeth, you may be clenching or grinding your teeth at night. While this type of bruxism is usually referred to as sleep bruxism, it is also possible to experience awake bruxism, which is simply clenching and grinding while you are awake. Awake bruxism has very similar symptoms. There is some disagreement in the dental research community about what causes both sleep and awake bruxism, though awake bruxism is more universally understood as a reaction to stress and anxiety.

In addition to stress and anxiety, sleep apnea or other airway problems are known to cause bruxism. Use of certain medications, particularly SSRIs (including brands like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft) used to treat issues like anxiety and depression may also cause bruxism, an unfortunate irony.

Certain medications may contribute to bruxism

Treating bruxism and TMD can be complex, in large part because the causes are not as well-documented or understood as other common problems like tooth decay. In fact, many dentists do not feel comfortable diagnosing or prescribing therapies for TMD. Despite this, it’s definitely a good idea to consult with a dentist, particularly one with advanced training in TMD diagnosis and treatment if you think you have significant bruxism or notice any of the symptoms described in this article.

Dentists may prescribe a range of approaches to treat bruxism or TMD. These include activities to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep hygiene, medication or dental restorative treatments to restore normal chewing surfaces and fix the relationship between the upper and lower jaw. If sleep apnea or breathing and airway issues are diagnosed, then specialized treatment will be prescribed.

But one of the most common (and best) treatments for treating bruxism is using a dental night guard, sometimes also referred to as a splint or occlusal appliance. The main advantages of night guards are that they are very conservative (no surgery is required) and very effective in treating the symptoms of bruxism.

Night guards are conservative and effective

Traditionally, night guards were usually offered by the dentist for a fee of approximately $500 or more. While this might still be less than the cost of a more invasive treatment if untreated bruxism takes a heavier toll, it’s easy to get the same level of protection for much less. BITEKNIGHT uses the latest manufacturing techniques and the most advanced materials to deliver you the same protection you can get from a night guard offered by the dentist for 80% less. You don’t need to compromise in protecting your teeth to make night guards affordable. Instead, get the best night guards delivered directly to you without a dental office visit for substantial savings.


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