It’s known as bruxism and according to the Canadian Sleep Society, about eight per cent of adults and 14 per cent of kids report grinding their teeth a few times a week.
“I’d say the majority of people experience at least some grinding,” Dr. Larry Levin, president of the Canadian Dental Association, says. “It’s often thought to be factored in with some stress in life and I think that depending on what’s happening in your life at the time, you may undergo a period that has a little more tension and that tension can be expressed in tooth grinding.”
Bruxism, the American Sleep Association says, often involves the incisor and canine teeth moving and rubbing against each other. It’s most often seen among children and is believed to lessen with age. Bruxism is also regularly seen in highly determined people and may also worsen when caffeine or nicotine are consumed before going to bed.
If teeth grinding persists and is not properly addressed, it can cause many problems with teeth and within the jaw, as well as sleep disruptions, Levin says.
“It can harm the teeth in a number of ways, the most obvious being the surface of the tooth,” Levin explains. “The enamel is worn off and the tooth becomes a little thinner. When that happens, the tooth is more prone to decay, having an easier access into the tooth, tooth sensitivity to hot and cold things or to more acid things like citrus can be more irritating to people who grind their teeth.”
Then there are the aspects you don’t see, Levin adds. The issue can also cause wear and tear on the muscles in the jaw that are involved in the grinding or clenching, causing them to be sore and, over time, temporomandibular joint disorder, which is also known as TMJ. It may also result in headaches throughout the day.
But bruxism, Levin says, usually doesn’t become serious enough to warrant treatment in most cases. Instead, it’s often something dentists will continue to warn their patients about should they see any signs of teeth grinding and help patients manage or prevent further damage.
“Usually the first thing you’d want to do is to make sure that a person’s teeth are fitting together normally in a normal bite because sometimes bites are unusual or they’re not fitting together which might be causing rubbing in an area,” Levin says.
If that’s the case, then a smooth plastic mouth guard may be suggested. The thick layer of plastic wedged in between the top and bottom layer of teeth will stop them from rubbing against each other. Instead, the teeth with rub up against the plastic, reducing the risk of any trauma to the teeth.
Another possible solution Levin will suggest is to find ways to manage any stress you may be experiencing. This may lessen the severity of the grinding or halt it altogether.
If the grinding is thought to be a part of an underlying sleep problem — like sleep apnea — then a sleep study may be required to determine if the grinding is a symptom alluding to a larger issue, Levin says.
(Sleep apnea happens when the throat muscles relax at night, blocking the airway and disrupting breathing, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) explains. And according to the NSF, about one in four people with sleep apnea grind their teeth at night.)
In these instances, a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine may be suggested, and these often help with ridding the person of teeth grinding. This is something that should be discussed with your health-care professional, however.
“I think people should raise the issue with their dentist,” Levin advises. “Dentists do check for these issues every time a patient has a checkup at their office, so it would be a good idea to raise it with your dentist if you think you’re having an issue grinding your teeth.”
He adds, “It’s important to discuss these things regularly with your dentist so you can deal with it before it becomes a larger issue.”