Is teeth grinding bad for you?

Did you just find out you’re grinding your teeth and wonder if teeth grinding is bad for you? Well, let’s talk about how teeth grinding (aka bruxism) could be affecting your health.

Why is grinding teeth bad?

If you’re a friend or partner of someone who grinds their teeth in their sleep, then you’ve probably heard the slightly screechy, slightly crunching, squeaking, but definitely the sleep-stopping sound of those pearly whites grinding against each other in the dead of night.

During teeth grinding episodes, heavy horizontal forces are applied to the teeth (as opposed to the vertical forces used when chewing and swallowing) that can be damaging to the teeth enamel. Furthermore, the force involved when you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep can exceed the maximum force you tolerate when awake, as the protective reflexes that normally prevent us from hurting ourselves are suppressed. That’s why teeth grinders often don’t realize how hard they’re grinding during sleep.

Teeth grinding puts a lot of pressure on your teeth and jaw structures

The side effects of teeth grinding are caused by the excessive amount of pressure and the unusual types of friction that happen when you grind your teeth in your sleep.

Some of the most obvious side effects include premature tooth wear, loose or chipped teeth, teeth fractures, and sore/tired jaw muscles in the morning.

Teeth grinding damage generally affects the dental enamel first. You might notice it as your teeth, especially your canine, become more ‘flat’ and shorter. This type of tooth wear can affect a single tooth or more, depending on how you grind.

teeth grinding wearing down teeth, making it look flat and short compared to before
Tooth wear is one of the side effects of teeth grinding

In some cases, bruxism can result in dysfunctions of the chewing muscles and temporomandibular joint (TMJ), causing pain and tenderness around the jaws and tension headaches, or even migraines.

Severe cases of bruxism can also cause posture problems as it can affect masticatory and postural muscles of the cervical spine. This may cause muscle pain and chronic permanent changes to their postures in the future.

But keep in mind that many of the consequences aren’t specific to sleep bruxism and may be related to other oral habits and conditions. For instance, bruxism isn’t the only cause of tooth wear. Tooth wear is a normal aging process that can be made worse by bruxism and acidic diet, such as frequent consumption of concentrated fruit juice or soda.

Different types of bruxism

Bruxism is one of the most prevalent and complex behaviors of the mandibular (jaw) system. Because of this, it presents itself differently in everybody and has many classifications. At a practical level, bruxism can be classified according to severity of the symptoms as mild, moderate, severe, and extreme. For instance, people who clench and demonstrate minimal grinding will not show much tooth wear but may experience a lot of pain and discomfort with their jaw and facial muscles. In this case, this individual can be categorized as a severe bruxer.

It’s also important to know when you’re grinding or clenching your teeth. Does it happen when you are awake or when you’re asleep? Despite having some similarities, awake bruxism and sleep bruxism have different causes and require different treatment plans.

Bruxism can also be classified into primary or secondary. Secondary bruxism refers to bruxism that is caused by another condition or external factors. For example, sleep apnea, neurological disorders, and certain anti-depressants are known to cause bruxism. On the other hand, primary bruxism is not related to any other medical condition.

Lastly, there seems to also be a large variation in how individuals move their jaws during bruxism. The three types are:

  • Tonic or clenching type
  • Phasic or grinding type
  • Mixed or a combination of both types

So then, is teeth grinding bad for you?

Well, because bruxism is highly variable among different people, it’s not a straightforward answer. That is to say: it depends. There are unfortunately no clear-cut thresholds for when bruxism becomes bad, but your symptoms may present a clue. If you don’t experience any noticeable symptoms or side effects, like dental issues, pain or headaches, then you might be just fine.

Also, bruxers who grind less frequently and with less intensity are at less risk for permanent consequences compared to someone who grinds more frequently with greater intensity. And depending on the grinding movement, the consequences might show up in different places. Someone who grinds their teeth side-to-side and also drinks a lot of soda might see faster tooth wear, as opposed to someone who clenches. However, the clencher in this situation might experience more intense facial and jaw pain than the teeth grinder.

Therefore, early diagnosis & monitoring of bruxism, especially severe bruxism, and any causes of it are necessary in order to avoid serious damage to the teeth, masticatory muscles, and your temporomandibular joints.

Sources

Lätti, A. M., Pekkanen, J., & Koskela, H. O. (2018). Defining the risk factors for acute, subacute and chronic cough: a cross-sectional study in a Finnish adult employee population. BMJ Open, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022950

Veiga, N. (2015). Bruxism – Literature review. International Journal of Dentistry and Oral Health, 1(5). https://doi.org/10.16966/2378-7090.134

Yap, A. U. J., & Chua, A. P. (2016). Sleep bruxism: Current knowledge and contemporary management. Journal of Conservative Dentistry, 19(5), 383. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-0707.190007

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