For some people, one of the greatest threats to the well-being of their teeth is, in fact, their other teeth. Repeatedly grinding your teeth together (a condition called bruxism) will lead to excessive, potentially destructive friction. It's not as simple as trying to refrain from the behavior, either. Chances are that it's happening while you sleep, and is a completely involuntary para-functional activity. For the sake of your dental health, bruxism must be managed.
Dentists can confirm bruxism in a number of ways:
- You may have reported tooth sensitivity, growing progressively stronger, as your grinding begins to erode the dental enamel from the biting surface of your teeth.
- Your dentist may have identified this corrosion of your dental enamel during a routine checkup before any sensitivity has begun to develop.
- You might be experiencing tenderness (and even pain) of your mastication (chewing) muscles each morning, having involuntarily strained them overnight.
Without intervention, your bruxism will continue to erode your dental enamel, meaning your sensitivity will escalate (and will almost inevitably lead to ongoing discomfort). When their enamel has been compromised, your teeth will lose some of their natural protection from cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria, making them more vulnerable to delay. Your dentist has some practical solutions to offset the problem.
At a minimum, you can be provided with a customized nightguard. Dental nightguards are thin, lightweight retainers (which look very similar to orthodontic clear aligners). They work on a very simple principle: creating a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth, which prevents them from rubbing together. Your dentist will also look for an obvious clinical cause of your bruxism.
Your dentist will look for any previously undiagnosed or recently developed abnormalities with your dental occlusion. This is nothing more than the contact between your upper and lower sets of teeth (your tooth-to-tooth contact), which should be in alignment. Misalignment can create an unnatural relationship between your upper and lower sets of teeth, which your jaw instinctively attempts to compensate for—resulting in your bruxism. This issue often requires orthodontic treatment.
Tooth Decay Or Loss
A specific tooth may have contributed to your bruxism. Untreated decay that has resulted in the loss of a tooth's structure can lead to alignment issues. The same is true if a tooth is entirely missing. Your dental occlusion can be altered by these issues, leading to a misalignment of your bite, as demonstrated by your bruxism. In these cases, restoring (or replacing) the relevant tooth can help to realign your bite, which should minimize (or even eliminate) your grinding.
Without management, bruxism will continue to wear your teeth down, until the point that tooth loss becomes possible. If you're concerned that you may be experiencing bruxism, contact your dentist to arrange for a checkup and a dental nightguard.