Teeth grinding, called Bruxism, has many causes and when chronic can lead to severe damage of the teeth and jaw. Many times, this happens at night when someone is sleeping so they may not even be aware it’s affecting them. Upon waking, they may experience jaw, ear or facial pain and headaches. This grinding can actually result in cracks and fractures to the teeth and if left untreated can cause loosening and eventually loss of teeth.
The major concern doctors and dentists have had about teeth grinding in the past has been strictly related to TMJ disorders. The temporomandibular joint sits right in front of the ears and connects the jaw bone to the skull. It’s a complex joint, and any irregularity can cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw. Grinding or clenching of the teeth on a regular basis, even if unconsciously, can cause or worsen symptoms of TMJ disorders.
Family and Cosmetic Dentist Dr. Gregory Kerbel, DDS, PLLC, was voted a Texas Super Dentist the last five years in a row and says,
“Grinding and clenching can cause an enormous amount of damage to the teeth and jaw. It can cause tooth decay, sensitivity, tooth loss and permanent jaw issues. Teeth grinding is often caused by stress or anxiety. However, scientists have known for decades that this can’t be the only cause after it was discovered that even in utero, fetuses were found to grind their ‘teeth.’”
Surprising new research has been released that says teeth grinding can also be an indicator and red flag for sleep apnea. In the past, sleep apnea was really only identified after the patient was found to experience chronic snoring or gasping for air in the middle of the night while asleep. Testing was mostly done on overweight, middle-aged men who were the poster children for the disorder.
Most went undiagnosed until awareness campaigns began spreading the word and people began to realize the widespread effects. CPAP machines that help keep breathing regular while asleep became more popular and evolved into less invasive, more comfortable treatment options. Dentists also developed oral appliances that many found great success with and lieu of the bulky machines used in CPAP treatments.
This new research has discovered that grinding our teeth can actually be a survival mechanism. The body shuts down during sleep in different stages. As we go into a deep sleep, our muscles begin to relax as fully as possible finally. Due to the weight of the jaw and the expansion of the tongues, once it relaxes, the airway can be prone to blockage. During the study, scientists found that the airway was reopened when the participants began grinding their teeth which allowed them to breathe normally again.
“Some people don’t even realize they are struggling while asleep at night. But research shows how much we need our sleep. Everything from heart disease to depression to weight gain can often be traced back to sleep issues. Dental oral appliances can be used to keep the airway open by holding the jaw and tongue in place and out of the way. This keeps anything from blocking the throat and allows for consistent, even breathing all through the night. Patients report waking more refreshed than ever before because they finally get a full night of restful sleep. Most are amazed at how life changing something so simple can be.”
This groundbreaking research shows new groups that are at risk including children with ADHD and other disabilities, people who suffer from anxiety and depression, petite women, men and women with longer than average necks, people that did not breastfeed as babies and anyone who grinds their teeth in their sleep.