- Extreme grinding can lead to tooth loss .
- Tendency decreases with age .
- Psychological stress as the most common cause of teeth grinding .
- Physiotherapy and autogenic training can help
One in five does it – often without knowing it: in many bedrooms people grind their teeth night after night. This leaves traces on the enamel, the quality of sleep and thus also on general good health.
Often, the first thing that the dentist notices is, what is going on in the patient’s sleep: ground down teeth, sharp edges or enamel cracks indicate night-time teeth grinding. Even fillings and implants can suffer damage and necks of teeth can be exposed. But even without this information, the person concerned could suspect that the jaw muscles are anything but resting at night. If they are working for hours during sleep, it is not uncommon to wake up with severe headaches and facial pain, migraines and tinnitus can also occur.
The strongest muscle in the human body
Known in technical jargon as bruxism, grinding of teeth denotes a rhythmic activity of the masticatory musculature. During sleep, it may show what it is actually capable of: When grinding teeth at night, the tooth surfaces are pressed against one another with an enormous pressure of up to 480 kg / cm², which corresponds to about ten times the force exerted when chewing food. No other muscle can act more powerfully on an external object, which is why the masticatory muscle is considered the strongest muscle in the human body. And that leaves its mark – for example on tooth enamel and dentine, or in the form of damaged fillings and implants. In extreme cases, even the pulp and nerve may suffer, sometimes leading to tooth loosening and tooth loss.
A question of age?
A distinction is generally made between primary sleep bruxism, which cannot be assigned to a clear cause; secondary bruxism, which occurs in connection with other diseases, such as neurological diseases or various sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea; and iatrogenic sleep bruxism, which is triggered as a side effect of medications such as some psychotropic drugs and antidepressants. Officially, there is no general cure for the cause of primary sleep bruxism, i.e. the form of teeth grinding that does not appear as a side effect of medication or as a symptom of a disease. The good news is that the tendency to grind your teeth decreases with age. According to estimates, 14% to 18% of children are affected, but only 5% to 6% of adults and 3% of seniors.
Psychological stress encourages teeth grinding
In order to get closer to the cause of teeth grinding, some self-observation is advisable. Do I tense my jaw repeatedly during the day? Is my tongue really relaxed or is it pressing against something? Am I breathing calmly and deeply enough? Physical tension often indicates a deeper, mental and psychological stress. Negative emotional stress is regarded as the undisputed leader among the causes of night-time teeth grinding. Sleep bruxism is not uncommon, especially in people with anxiety disorders, but it can also occur temporarily in periods of intense emotional stress. A therapeutic approach is advisable if you develop e.g. chronic pain, or if dentition is permanently damaged.
How do I get rid of teeth grinding?
How can you actively do something about the grinding of your teeth? First of all, a dental examination is necessary. Sometimes one needs a precise analysis of the masticatory apparatus to clarify problems with the temporomandibular joint. Usually, however, an occlusal splint is prescribed. The grinding is only treated symptomatically, but at least the teeth and joints are being protected.
Since psychological stress is often the basis, stress management is particularly important. Behavioural therapy or psychological support can help especially with an increased perception of stress – relaxation techniques such as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation are considered promising measures. Medications for muscle relaxation will sometimes be prescribed, but usually only for a short time to avoid possible side effects. Sometimes, an injection of the neurotoxin Botox will be applied to loosen the jaw muscle, but is not recommended due to possible bone resorption. Physiotherapy is more advisable, such as massage or special stretching exercises for the jaw. Also, in the wider context, attention should be paid to the muscles and physiotherapeutic treatment be considered, since the cervical spine and the position of the head affects the position of the jaw: if the head is pushed too far forward, as is often the case with computer work or excessive use of the smart phone, then this may lead to tension in the muscles of the jaw. Summarizing, it can be said that almost everything that brings mental and physical relaxation can help prevent teeth grinding.
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