It might seem like tooth sensitivity and the occasional canker sore caused by biting the side of the mouth are the most annoying things about grinding your teeth. But the truth is you are causing much worse damage if you have bruxism (teeth grinding habit).
These are five of the worst ways in which you could be harming your body by grinding your teeth.
1. Enamel Wear
This is the harmful effect that many people think of when they consider teething grinding. And it is an important one. Enamel is what protects your teeth from decay. When it wears away, the dentin of your teeth is exposed.
Dentin is the middle layer of the tooth, the layer right before the pulp (where the blood vessels and nerves live. It can range in color but is generally a light yellow, which can often be seen through the enamel of the teeth. Like enamel, it is harder than bone, but it is still no match for long-term friction from teeth grinding. Grinding will, in fact, continue to penetrate through dentin just as it does through the enamel.
If your teeth have become increasingly sensitive, it can be because your dentin is becoming exposed. Exposed dentin will leave your teeth more susceptible to infection. So, regular wear and tear from the friction of nightly teeth grinding can cause some serious damage to your dental health.
2. Gum Inflammation
The pressure from grinding and clenching travels through your teeth and has the ability to affect your gums. The gums can become inflamed in response to the pressure that travels through the teeth, which increases the possibility of further issues. Inflamed gums are easier targets for bacteria. And that bacteria can cause gum disease, which researchers think can contribute to other conditions, including heart disease and possibly cancer.
Inflammation can also increase your chances of experiencing gum recession because it makes it easier for plaque to build up and separate your gums and teeth. Receding gums bring a host of their own issues. And gums cannot regrow once they have receded, meaning you may need gum grafts.
3. Muscle Tension and Headaches
The muscles you use to grind and clench will inevitably react to the nightly use and tension. Therefore, it’s common for habitual teeth grinders to experience frequent tension headaches as well as neck and jaw pain. You may even experience migraines because of teeth grinding.
Obviously, other stressors can also cause tension and the headaches that come with it, but if you have frequent jaw pain, inner ear pain, tenderness on the sides of your neck, or you know you grind your teeth, consider whether there might be a link.
Therefore, instead of popping some pain medication or lying down to recuperate, you may see the most improvement by finding ways to decrease the aggression and frequency of your teeth grinding. This includes incorporating daily stress relieving activities in your end-of-the-day wind-down, eliminating large stressors from your life if possible, checking for and treating any underlying jaw or tooth alignment issues, and trying treatments such as physical therapy or Botox that may lessen grinding.
4. Jaw Disorders
Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) often go hand-in-hand with a bruxism problem. That’s because the jaw muscles can become irritated and inflamed by the workout they’re getting while you sleep. It’s also possible that the two issues, TMJ disorder and teeth grinding, are each increasing the severity of the other. Signs you have a problem can include pain and tenderness in the jaw joint, popping sounds in the joint, pain while chewing, and difficulty opening and closing the mouth.
Treatments for TMJ disorders include the use of splints (night guards), physical therapy, Botox injections, irrigation of the joint, and surgery. It is important to treat TMJ early on when simpler treatments might be enough. Prolonged inflammation can cause damage to the joint that requires more complex procedures to treat.
5. Chipped and Loose Teeth
Chipping and losing teeth are two primal fears that create a gut reaction in almost every human. It’s probably why so many of us share similar nightmares that involve damage to our teeth. So, it’s clear that these are not problems you want to face.
Chipped teeth can occur when grinding is very aggressive or when teeth are more brittle due to age, diet, or medication. Loose teeth generally happen due to gum recession, which, as we mentioned earlier, can be caused by teeth grinding. In particularly bad cases, you can even lose teeth because of teeth grinding habits .
As you can see, it is crucial that you do everything you can to lessen your grinding and safeguard your teeth and gums against the effects. At the very least, you should invest in a well-made custom night guard that will cushion your teeth and protect them from friction. For some, this is all that is needed, but you might also consider trying stress relief practices, therapy, jaw or teeth alignment, and other ways of decreasing your teeth grinding habit.
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