Tooth grinding and teeth clenching are very common, much more than you may think. Although grinding your teeth is something that can happen at any time of day, you get the biggest problems when tooth grinding happens at night, when you are asleep.
When you are asleep, teeth clenching happens at 2 or 3 times the force that is possible when you are awake! That's more than DOUBLE the force!
Lots of parents tell me that they can hear their young children grinding teeth loudly at night. They can see how the baby teeth get worn down gradually over a couple of years.
But when I point out tooth wear on adult teeth, patients tend to blame everything else EXCEPT grinding their teeth! They tell me that they chipped their teeth in an accident, or on hard abrasive foods. Most of them don't believe me at first when I tell them that they are grinding their teeth at night.
What are the signs and symptoms that alert me to tooth grinding?
The typical picture would be waking up in the morning with a headache or a dull pain anywhere in your head. It's also possible to get "stress headaches" and a sore neck from this intense tooth grinding at night. See Migraine Help.
But it's more of a problem if you slide your jaw off to one side a bit as well as clenching. NOW the jaw-joints are unequally loaded, and one side can start to become uncomfortable. If you are teeth clenching every night, the poor old joint takes a beating! See Jaw Joint Pain for more information.
There's nothing we eat that's as hard as tooth enamel. The only thing that wears down tooth enamel is the tooth enamel on another tooth!
But it takes a lot of force. It has been shown that, when we are asleep, we can clench our teeth with more than 2 or 3 times the force that is possible when we are awake. More than double! But we usually don't know we are grinding our teeth, because we ARE asleep!
First, heavy and prolonged tooth grinding at night.
Second, aggressive tooth brushing with a hard-bristled brush along the gum edges.
Third, an acidic environment in the mouth, either from drinking acidic drinks like sodas, or gastric acid reflux.
Any 2 of these together will set the stage for notches to develop! The damage at the tooth neck from grinding teeth is caused by the huge forces exerted on the teeth. The tooth flexes a microscopic amount, actually bending a fraction at the gum edge.
Enamel is very brittle, like porcelain, and where it is thinnest (at gum level) it can splinter off. Over a period of some years, you get a notch developing.
And so does the bit of bone that the muscle is anchored to. Over a period of some years, this area of bone can become denser and enlarged. Like a muscle, bone reacts to exercise!
The surprising thing is, it's also possible to crack a tooth right from top to bottom, even a tooth that has never had a filling before. This just goes to prove the forces involved.
As you can see from this list, tooth grinding at night can cause a number of problems. If somebody only has one or two of the things from this list, then it's not certain that they ARE grinding their teeth. But if they have several of the things, then it becomes more of a certainty. Ask your dentist!