I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!
Up to 30% of the population chronically grinds their teeth, which in dental terms is called bruxism. This usually occurs at night when the person is sleeping. While this may not sound very serious, the forces that it places on both the teeth and jaw joints are enormous.
Serious or chronic cases of nighttime teeth grinding can result in chipped teeth, cracked teeth, the wearing down of the crowns of the teeth, tooth fracture, tooth loss, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues, chronic migraine headaches, overdeveloped facial muscles (hypertrophic masseter), torticollis (chronically locked neck), and in extreme cases, spinal pain and eventual spinal degeneration.
Most people who chronically grind their teeth are looking for natural ways by which to stop. Even if they're not suffering from extreme symptoms, they may have noticed some wearing away of their tooth surfaces.
Most of the time, dental health professionals will alert you to your habit, but the truth is that most people already know. If you're not sure whether you grind your teeth, check out the symptoms below.
Signs and Symptoms
- Overdeveloped muscles of the jaw, making your jaw appear wide and boxy. Usually, the masseters become hypertrophic (overdeveloped), but sometimes both the masseters and temporalis muscles can be affected.
- A tired, sore jaw without any other explanation. Usually, this occurs in the morning after getting out of bed. It can hurt or be mildly sore to talk or eat breakfast
- Pain in front of or behind the ear, which is a symptom of jaw joint (TMJ) pain
- Chronic clicking of the TMJ either on one side or both when you open your mouth.
- An inability to open your mouth very widely compared to people around you. The dental term for this is trismus, but the more common term is lockjaw
- Chronically occurring migraine headaches that usually appear in the temporal or temple region of the face
- A grinding or loud tapping sound occurring while you're sleeping. Sometimes this will wake the person up, but usually it's someone's partner who picks up on this fact
- A chronic tilting of the neck to one side, called torticollis. This can be due to muscle spasms.
- Spinal pain with no known cause
Dental Evidence of Teeth Grinding
- Excessive wear to the crowns of your teeth, otherwise known as the chewing or biting surfaces of the teeth
- Highly sensitive teeth due to the shearing away of the protective layers of the teeth
- Mobility of the teeth from the constant back and forth motion under pressure. This damages the ligaments that hold the teeth in place
- The formation of notches on the teeth near the gum line called abfraction. This is caused by the excessive pressure placed on the teeth while grinding. Enamel is thinnest toward the gum line and just "pops off" when enough pressure is exerted on the teeth
- Chipping or cracking of the teeth due to the immense forces exerted
- Sore teeth due to inflamed periodontal ligaments, the things that hold the teeth in place. These ligaments are what anchors the teeth to the jaw bone
- Lip or cheek bites that have no immediate or forthcoming explanation
There's really no consensus in the medical or dental world as to what causes people to grind their teeth. This is probably because a range of factors can contribute to this condition. Some of these are listed below:
- Sleep apnea (a sleep disorder)
- Teeth that are misaligned, or a jaw that doesn't align properly
- Side effect of prescribed medications like antipsychotics
- Side effect of illicit drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine
- Pinched nerves in the head, neck, or spine
- Lack of calcium and/or magnesium in the diet that would help relax muscle spasms
- TMJ (jaw joint) issues causing teeth grinding, which, in turn, causes TMJ problems
- Ongoing stress
Ways to Stop and Prevent Teeth Grinding
- Don't chew gum or on anything like pens or pencils. This will strengthen the muscles that contribute to teeth grinding.
- Learn to relax your jaw muscles throughout the day. Make a conscious effort.
- Use a nightguard at night. Some people love them and some people hate them, but they're worth trying out to see if they work for you.
- Place a warm/moist towel on your jaw joint before bed. This will help relax the muscles.
- Eat enough calcium and magnesium. A lack of these minerals will cause the jaw to clench.
- Avoid an inflammatory diet (meat, dairy, sugar, gluten, and anything you're sensitive or allergic to.)
- Don't use caffeine or illicit stimulant drugs before bedtime.
- Go to a chiropractor to free pinched nerves in your head, neck, and spine.
- Go to a dentist who specializes in TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Kate P
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 24, 2015:
MeredithCummings, thanks for reading and for your nice comment. I'm so happy you've found some relief by using a nightguard / mouth guard! :)
Meredith Lee Cummings from MA on September 24, 2015:
Thank you for posting! I have been suffering for the last couple of month and my front chipped teeth illustrate the picture and chipping you presented. I have found great relief using a mouth guard, even during the day.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 19, 2015:
Parrster, I'm surprised that your hygienist or dentist didn't mention the abfractions to you and discuss your teeth grinding over the decades. But I'm glad you finally discovered the source of your migraines and found a night guard that works for you. Thanks for the wonderful comment, I appreciate it! :)
Richard Parr from Australia on September 19, 2015:
Suffered migraines for decades until discovering I clenched my teeth at night. I now wear a small guard that prevents my molars coming into contact with each other. I've also found magnesium taken just before bed is a great relaxant. I have quite noticeable abfractions along my lower right molars, which I'm hoping will come right. Thanks for the informative and well written article.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 12, 2015:
Hi Ecogranny, you might have missed the section titled "read the full article," which is the full in-depth article. Thanks for your input and comments! :)
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on September 12, 2015:
Interesting article. I would like more depth on the "how to stop" portion of the article, which left me with lots of questions, but at least I have a starting point now. The diagrams, photos, and explanation of what causes tooth grinding are most helpful. Thank you.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 12, 2015:
Peachpurple, it certainly can be a habit (generally in the daytime), but here I'm talking about chronic teeth grinding, which is not habit-related. Most people who chronically grind their teeth are asleep when they do it, and it's caused by muscle spasms and/or pinched nerves in their head or neck. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment! :)
peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 12, 2015:
I thought grinding teeth was a habit