What can happen when you grind and clench your teeth

Grinding and clenching your teeth – also known as bruxism – can become an uncomfortable oral habit leading to both teeth damage and painful jaw joints (also known as the temporomandibular joint). Patients mainly grind their teeth subconsciously at night time whilst sleeping with the consequences usually taking some time to become apparent and so gradually necessitate effective treatment.

Damage to teeth at the gum line level

As the teeth grind against each other the hard tooth substance (otherwise known as the enamel) gradually wears down. Once the enamel is too thin or completely worn off the surface of the tooth, they become more sensitive to touch as well as to the sensation of eating cold or sweet foods. Once this process starts, it can lead to recession or inflammation of the gums and damage to the tooth neck itself. In severe cases, if the enamel is worn down extremely quickly, it could result in the death of the tooth nerve, loosening the individual tooth or even leading to the loss of them, entirely.

Damage to the temporomandibular joint at the skeletal level

When the teeth are pressed against each other, forces which are unnaturally strong act on the jaw for a sustained period of time. During the actual recovery phase of the body during the night, the chewing system continues to work mostly to reduce the stress of the day as an oral habit formed over time. A disc is situated between the movable lower jaw and the load bearing skull (all three forming the temporomandibular joint). If the disc and the surrounding capsule is too heavily loaded a painful inflammation or a complete wear of the disc might be the consequence leading to pain and in some cases decrease the patient’s ability to chew in comfort and with confidence.

Muscular discomfort can occur

As a result of the excessively stressed muscles during periods of teeth grinding, severe muscle ache can result. The muscle tension in turn can lead to the onset of migraine or the discomfort of tinnitus.

Focus and sleep can also be affected

People who grind their teeth at night usually sleep less deeply and wake up only moderately refreshed in the morning. Please note that such continuing fatigue can often lead to a lack of concentration. Patients affected can feel exhausted, tired and drained. In the long-term, bruxism can have a negative effect on performance and mood, affecting every aspect of an affected patient’s daily life.

There are treatment options for bruxism

At appointment, after examination, your dentist can identify abrasion points on the teeth which are usually a clear sign of nocturnal teeth grinding. An analysis of the chewing function by your dentist can then provide the information needed concerning the current condition of your whole food digestion system. At this point we can discuss and evaluate the causes of the severity of the condition of bruxism you may now be facing – but rest assured that it is one we can remedy together.

The first treatment option to consider is always a customised nightguard. This appliance is often referred to as a ‘Michigan splint’ or ‘Michigan nightguard.’ The treatment principle is that if the patient wears them at night; the hard tooth substance (the enamel) cannot be damaged any further. 

If your dentist discovers that misaligned teeth are responsible for the grinding, rest assured that they can be aligned using Invisalign® or even other methods of orthodontic treatment. If previous tooth restorations are found to be the cause of your bruxism, please note that they might have to be replaced. Depending on the cause, targeted relaxation exercises and physiotherapeutic treatment can support the treatment you choose. In extreme cases the muscle activity can be reduced with Botox injections.

What is the difference between bruxism and a CMD?

CMD (cranio-mandibular-disorder) is a collective term for dysregulation of the muscle or joint function of the masticatory (or chewing) system. Bruxism can be both a cause and a symptom of such dysregulation.

Please consult your dentist at your booked appointment, for the best advice if this is a concern for you.

Are you affected by bruxism?

The following signs can indicate bruxism:

  • Experiencing head, shoulder and neck pain
  • Noticing grinding, cracking sounds, pain or restrictions when opening and closing your mouth
  • Finding that you are chipping your teeth or your ceramic veneers
  • Developing receding gums, suffering from exposed tooth necks
  • Sensing the pain of sensitive teeth
  • Observing the loosening of your teeth or your dental implants
  • Starting to have migraines and beginning to feel the discomfort of tinnitus


What should I do if I think I may have bruxism?

Book an appointment at your next available opportunity to discuss bruxism with your dentist here at Wimpole Street Dental Clinic.

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