Are You a Night Clencher or Grinder?

At least twice a week, I’ll see a patient walk in with a broken tooth that was previously asymptomatic. Many times it’s on a tooth that never had a filling. These shocked and confused patients often tell me that they weren’t even biting on anything hard. So how does a healthy tooth just break from eating something soft – something like a cupcake?

There are many stressors in modern life: hectic work schedules, project deadlines, marital problems, cars breaking down etc. Whether or not we are consciously aware of these stress factors, our body reacts to these stimuli. One of these reactions is in our jaw muscles. Stress often causes our jaw muscles to over-contract, leading to clenching and/or grinding. When we are awake, our teeth communicate with the brain, and that prevents us from biting down with excessive force. During sleep, this “braking” system doesn’t work, and in turn, we end up putting over 100 pounds of pressure on our teeth! This excessive force creates micro fractures in the teeth, and over time the fractures get deeper and deeper, until one day the tooth just cracks.

Over 50 percent of adults grind or clench their teeth. And more than 90 percent are not aware of the damage they are doing to their teeth on a daily basis until their dentist sees it! The other 10 percent have irritated bed partners that let them know they are making a horrendous noise with their teeth, and they probably should go see a dentist.

If clenching is so common, why aren’t more people aware of this condition? The main reason is that the effects of clenching are not immediate. It’s common for patients to not even experience pain. In more serious cases, patients may feel a mild headache in the morning and some soreness in the jaws, but for the most part it is a silent condition. The damage takes time to build up. Unfortunately, by the time the patient realizes something is wrong, he/she is most likely already in the dental chair with a broken tooth.

At your next check up, ask your dentist if he/she sees any signs of clenching or grinding. Your dentist is trained to check for abnormal wear patterns on teeth, cracks, excessive muscle tightness in the jaws and abnormal joint noises, all of which are indicative of grinding or clenching. If there is no major damage to any teeth yet, a night guard is often the most conservative treatment recommended. A night guard fits over your teeth and absorbs the excessive pressure from your jaws. An impression of your teeth will be taken at your appointment for a comfortably fitted night guard. The procedure usually takes less than five minutes, and a week later your custom-made night guard will be sent back from the lab and fitted on you. Every night before you sleep, you should wear the night guard. Regular wear will help prevent a lot of major tooth damage from happening in the near future. Remember, preventative treatment is always the easiest and most effective way to ensure your smile remains healthy and beautiful for life.

You can contact Dr. Karen Liang at Smile Generation®-trusted Lindero Canyon Dental Group at 818-706-0131.

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