At least one in 10 people in the UK grind their teeth so violently - usually while sleeping - that it is harmful: the pressure created here is enormous, so that it corresponds to about six to ten times the normal bite force. Even though we all have these phases when we have to "clench our teeth", they can have serious consequences in the long run. What can we do about it?
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What happens when you grind your teeth?
Teeth grinding, medically called bruxism, is a repetitive, unconscious clenching and rubbing of the jaws. The grinding can manifest itself as rubbing, whining, pressing or clenching of the teeth and the person affected is often not even aware of it. Sometimes it is the partner who wakes up at night to the unpleasant noise and draws attention to it.
Why do you grind?
Bruxism can have psychological and anatomical causes, sometimes a combination of both. It is mostly caused by psychological, private or work-related reasons. Recent studies show that people who grind cannot make proper use of rest periods. Teeth grinding is thus a way of coping with stress, and it can be further supported by frequent alcohol consumption, breathing disorders during sleep, as well as by taking certain medications.
Children grind their teeth particularly often, although the assumption that they are growing and still have to "jerk their teeth into shape" over the years is a misconception. Women follow ahead of men and the 20-45 age group is mostly effected, because teeth grinding decreases with age and not even one in 30 people over 60 (still) grinds their teeth in their sleep.
Am I a "grinder"?
If the teeth are already affected, the dentist can easily recognise indications of bruxism. Particularly typical here are heavily ground incisors, the so-called ground facets. But even if no tooth damage is visible yet, there are symptoms that can indicate that you are a "grinder". Headaches and neck pain, a cracking jaw, not feeling refreshed in the morning or even a kind of sore muscles in the jaw can be indications.
What consequences can teeth grinding have?
When you grind, it literally takes a toll on your teeth. The intense pressing and pushing abrades the chewing surfaces, causing small cracks to form in the enamel and fractures to the tooth structure. In special cases, the pressure can even blow off small pieces of enamel because the force is focused on individual teeth. Teeth grinding also leaves its mark on the muscles: the constant tension trains your chewing muscles like a barbell trains your biceps. Further consequences of grinding can therefore be a kind of "sore muscles" in the jaw or facial area, headaches and even tinnitus and back and cervical spine problems.
What can I do about it?
The classic solution for "night grinders", or sleep bruxism, is the occlusal splint, often called a "grinding splint", to be worn at night. Often made as an immediate measure, these can be hard or soft and can be fitted to the upper or lower jaw. The costs for this are covered by the health insurance! Unfortunately, since the occlusal splint does not prevent grinding per se, but only protects the teeth from further damage, it is important to get to the bottom of the trigger. A good dentist will first try to find out the reason for the teeth grinding so that they can tailor their treatment to it.
It is different if the patient grinds while awake. Here, behavioural therapies are used that aim to make the patient aware of the clenching of the jaws. One possibility can be to stick a dot on the desk to draw attention to the jaw when it is seen.
Regardless of the type of grinding, there is something else that can be done: Exercise! Help your body relax, reduce stress hormones. An intense workout, yoga and meditation can be beneficial.
What can alleviate the discomfort?
Physiotherapy is a very good complementary measure. Loosening exercises, massages and heat applications help to relieve tension in the jaw muscles. Osteopathy can also have an alleviating effect by balancing tensions.
Biofeedback is also particularly promising, in which muscle tension is transmitted to a computer with the help of electrodes and made visible. An acoustic signal draws the patient's attention to the tension and helps to specifically learn again what relaxation feels like. Unfortunately, health insurance companies do not cover the costs of this treatment.
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