You might think bruxism (teeth grinding) is such a rare phenomenon that you needn’t be concerned about it. But in fact, it’s been estimated that 30-40 million Americans experience it, some in the form of sleep bruxism, which is clenching the teeth at night when you’re unconscious and don’t even know you’re doing it. If you notice swelling and muscle pain around your jaw, your mouth clicking when you open and close it, and/or your teeth getting flatter or loosening, there’s a reasonable chance that you’re engaging in teeth grinding. If you think you might need to talk about the possibility with your dentist, you may want to consult the list of risk factors that follow.
Risk Factors for Teeth Grinding: Illnesses
Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing on multiple occasions while you’re asleep. When this happens, it’s not infrequently because the tongue is blocking the respiratory airway. A natural response (although not one that’s good for your teeth and jaw) is to grind your teeth in an effort to reopen the airway and start yourself breathing again. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may well notice the symptoms it tends to produce, many of them when the afflicted person is awake: depression, mood changes, lack of energy, forgetfulness, dry throat, and restless sleep.
Anxiety and stress.You may indeed have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but anxiety and stress can be associated with teeth grinding even if you’re simply going through a stressful period in your life. Clenching your teeth leads to the body releasing cortisol, a stress hormone. Thus anxiety is fueling the bruxism.
Other health problems.Teeth grinding has been linked to a number of conditions including ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, night terrors, and gastro esophageal reflux disorder.
Obviously, medications aren’t illnesses themselves, but they’re the remedies you resort to in response to illnesses. Some of them can produce teeth grinding as a side effect. It’s perhaps most common with antidepressants and other psychiatric medications although other medications can produce bruxism too.
Risk Factors for Teeth Grinding: Other Factors
Family history. Bruxism can run in families. This is especially true of sleep bruxism, and you are particularly likey to develop the problem if your father, mother, a brother, or a sister had it.
Bite misalignment. It’s possible you have crooked teeth or an uneven bite. If you do, the misalignment can result in the condition called (TMD) Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, which puts pressure on the jaw joints and causes pain. The pain may lead to spasms, and the spasms take the form of you grinding your teeth together.
Bad habits. Certain harmful habits are associated with bruxism. These include smoking and drinking alcohol or even just caffeinated beverages to excess.
Risk Factors for Teeth Grinding: The Bottom Line
If you’re experiencing symptoms that could indicate bruxism and you have one or more of the risk factors, be sure to tell your dentist about it to aid him or her in making a diagnosis. But even if you don’t have any of them, it’s still possible you’re grinding your teeth. Fortunately, if you are, dental health professionals can provide effective teeth grinding treatment in the form of a bruxism mouth guard or other interventions as indicated for your particular case.