Teeth Grinding: Causes, Effects, and Natural Treatments

Teeth Grinding: Causes, Effects, and Natural Treatments

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  1. Clinically referred to as “bruxism,” teeth grinding is defined as the act of consciously or unconsciously clenching your teeth throughout the course of the day or while you sleep. Considered both a medical as well as dental problem, bruxism can affect the teeth as well as the surrounding area.

    According to the University of Texas, a surprising number of people — an estimated 30 million — deal with the symptoms of bruxism. Not only can this habit erode tooth enamel, misalign teeth, and cause headaches, it can exhaust your energy by disrupting your sleep. Said to be as common as snoring, teeth grinding usually occurs during sleep, but is often coupled with snoring.



    Doctors now understand that people grind their teeth for a number of reasons–and not merely by habit.

    > Abnormal alignment of teeth

    The abnormal alignment of the upper and lower teeth is technically referred to as “malocclusion.” This condition is one of the physical causes of teeth grinding. Dental experts believe that if there is something abnormal about the structure of a person’s teeth, they grind involuntarily as they attempt to make proper alignment.

    > Growth development of the teeth and jaw

    When bruxism develops in children, it is often the body’s natural response to the physical changes occurring in the jaw and teeth. It may also be that as the teeth grow in, the upper and lower molars don’t mesh together. While bruxism in children is more rare than in adults, sometimes a pattern of behavior is established that carries over into adulthood. Fortunately, children usually outgrow this condition as their teeth self-align over time.

    > Stress

    Stress is perhaps the most common cause for bruxism, especially the grinding of teeth during sleep. As stress is commonly known to disrupt a person’s sleep cycle, the individual often ends up clenching their teeth unconsciously and intermittently during sleep.

    > Frustration or pent up anger

    Some researchers make a distinction between the causes for teeth clinching during the day, and those during sleep. Studies show that many people habitually clench their teeth during the day due to suppressed anger. While there are several options for those who grind during sleep, therapists suggest that individuals who grind during the day due to frustration or anger may need to consult a qualified psychiatrist to help address the underlying problem.

    > Complication from other conditions

    Recent studies show that teeth grinding can be linked to other diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington disease. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system which affects the person’s motor skills. Huntington’s disease is a neurological disorder that is characterized by lack of movement coordination. People suffering from either of these two disorders are candidates for teeth grinding–both during the day and night.

    > Particular drugs and medications

    While there is no conclusive evidence to prove this assertion, many doctors are looking to various medications as potential causes of teeth grinding, especially when a drug use/teeth grinding correlation can be demonstrated.



    More than just interfering with a good night’s sleep, teeth grinding can be a significant health concern that should not simply be ignored. While mild or temporary cases of bruxism may not be a cause for alarm, more severe cases can lead to a number of complications.

    > Teeth damage

    The primary physical affect of bruxism, is, of course, damage to the teeth themselves. Repeated grinding of the upper and lower teeth can invariably result in physical damage to the teeth’s surface, and in more severe cases, even to the cheeks. Extreme wear and erosion, fractured crowns, and missing or broken teeth are all too common with chronic teeth grinding.

    > Chronic headaches

    Perhaps the most widely reported problem associated with chronic teeth grinding is headaches. Sometimes a symptom of stress — which can set off episodes of teeth grinding — sometimes a symptom of the act of grinding itself, the grinding/headache cycle can cause a bout of teeth grinding to develop into a chronic condition. Doctors often suggest over-the-counter pain medications to deal with the headaches associated with bruxism, but more often than not, the grinding/headache cycle leads to sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression–thus, perpetuating the cycle.

    > Facial pain

    When headaches are the chief complication of bruxism, facial pain typically occurs as well. Those who believe that teeth grinding only affects their teeth are often surprised to learn the extent to which bruxism can affect the head and face. Additionally, facial pain can result in wrinkles and skin sagging.

    > Temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders

    Temporomandibular disorders (also referred to as TMJ) sometimes result from chronic grinding of the teeth. There are even cases wherein the jaw becomes dislocated due to severe teeth grinding.

    > Bite changes

    If you suffer from bruxism, it could well be that your bite will eventually change. Your teeth may wear down and may even make a squeaking sound as you eat. To compensate for these physical changes, you are forced to shift your bite to the undamaged area of your teeth. This could lead to lose of appetite, dietary concerns, and affect nutritional intake if left untreated.

    Although teeth grinding is not generally considered a major health issue, the habit can nonetheless lead to problems related to the mouth, jaw, and face, causing broken dentures and tooth loss. Dentists suggest that if teeth grinding becomes a chronic condition, you take steps to address it before complications develop. Here are some natural remedies you can try before a small problem unnecessarily becomes a big one.


    Natural Treatments

    While some causes of bruxism may require more intensive — even invasive treatment — many whose condition is caused by stress or anger have been greatly helped by these simple natural treatments.

    > Lips together, teeth apart

    Assistant Professor Michael Goldberg from Columbia University’s School of Medicine says that the healthiest position for teeth and jaws is "lips together, teeth apart." If you can get into the habit of consciously setting your jaw so that your teeth do not touch throughout the course of the day (other than when eating), over time this may translate to how you set your jaw while asleep.

    > Exercise

    Some experts suggest that walking or doing some other heart-pumping exercise that forces you to work up a sweat may be effective. (Vigorous sex would seem to fit into this category as well.) The theory is that when you pant, you tend to breath through your mouth, releasing your jaw and keeping your teeth from pressing together. Do this often enough and your jaw will get the message to maintain a relaxed position.

    > Eat melon

    Yes, melon! Some experts say that people who eat melon regularly experience less anxiety and fatigue. Less anxiety = less teeth grinding = breaking the cycle. The theory here is that melons (and not just watermelon) are such storehouses of antioxidants that when eaten, they trigger a chemical relaxing. If you’re not already in the "melon" habit, try eating a slice every day for a month and see if your grinding diminishes, or the grinding/stress cycle is broken.

    > Music

    A recent study of sleep habits showed that regularly listening to music before bed calms many individuals, resulting in less teeth grinding incidence during sleep. Therapists suggest that you try listening to soothing music 15 minutes before bedtime. There’s a good chance you’ll be calmer, sleep more relaxed, and won’t grind.


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