Clenching & Grinding
Nightime Grinding? Daytime Clencher?
Grinding and Clenching are habits that cause tooth pain, jaw pain, jaw joint pain and facial pain. Some people wake up with their teeth or face sore. Others find themselves with cheek muscles as hard as cement and teeth feeling “glued” together.
So I’m a Grinder/Clencher. It’s Not My Fault!
These habits can feel out of our control. It’s not like anyone chooses to grind their teeth at night, right? The habits make us feel helpless because grinding and clenching are often actually driven by underlying health factors that we’re not aware of. In other words, Grinding and Clenching can be our body’s way of telling us something is wrong.
Grinding and Clenching are Warning Signs… Of What?
Nightime grinding and clenching can be a sign of sleep disordered breathing such as sleep apnea. These habits can also be signs of underlying stressors in our bodies such as hormonal issues or an imbalanced bite. Daytime clenching in particular is frequent among people who internalize stress.
What If I Can’t Figure Why I Grind or Clench?
For some people, the underlying cause of the grinding and clenching never comes to the surface. While it’s great to not have a sleep disorder, that doesn’t mean you won’t still suffer the consequences of grinding and clenching and it’s important to protect yourself.
What’s Wrong with Grinding and Clenching?
Grinding and clenching cause lots of problems, particularly for the mouth and face. Both habits put unhealthy strain on the jaw joint and can lead to TMD as well as headaches and facial pain. Grinding wears teeth down, weakening them and increasing the chances for cracked, broken teeth, and toothaches. The constant extra pressure that comes from grinding and clenching also inflames the nerves of the teeth and jaw and can lead to shooting pains in teeth, sensitivity and chronic nerve damage. This pressure also contributes to bone loss and recession, which raises the risk of gum disease and bone infections. Because these habits require constant flexing of the cheek muscles that move the jaw, grinding and clenching re-shape faces giving them a thicker appearance with bulbous cheek muscles that stick out under the cheek bones. Grinding and clenching cause many more dental and facial problems than people ever realize.
How Do I Stop Grinding or Clenching?
Treatment for grinding and clenching almost always starts with a custom bite splint that will help facial muscles relax and “forget” to grind or clench. Bite splints are used both to diagnose and to treat grinding and clenching. Bite splints apply principles from orthopedic medicine to reduce or completely eliminate grinding and clenching. In the process, they also protect the teeth preventing joint damage, tooth wear and so many of the other complications caused by grinding and clenching. Depending on other factors contributing to or causing the grinding or clenching, treating these habits may also include screenings and treatments to deal with the root causes as well.
But I Grind Through Nightguards…
You may grind through nightguards and through steel plates, for that matter, if they aren’t made with the right thickness of material and with the proper design for your mouth.
I would expect any chronic grinder or clencher to buzz right through a simple lab-generated plastic mold of their teeth. A bite splint can only be effective if it is customized to deactivate the grinding and clenching muscles. Hyperactive muscles “activate” or start acting when they sense something to push against (a little bit like toddlers :). Deactivating them so that they can relax requires constructing a bite splint that only provides a pushing surface for teeth that aren’t connected to pushing muscles.
Sometimes it takes several appointments or even several splints to figure out which type of material works and which teeth need less pressure. And yes, occasionally patients will grind through splints no matter what splint design or material their dentist has chosen for them. Even for these patients, replacing bite splints is more affordable than replacing broken teeth! Successful bite splint therapy requires a careful study of your bite, your teeth and your muscles followed by patient modification of the initial splint until it meets your needs.
My Storebought Nightguard Messed Up My Teeth!
Did you know that you can buy a kit to make your own nightguard at many local stores for as little as $1? Yep, that’s just $1.
Before you run out and buy one, be warned that we meet patients who come in crying that they not only “got what they paid for,” they got more trouble than they ever could have bargained for.
Why? These DIY nightguards cause dental problems. They can’t be customized to distribute force evenly across all the teeth. In fact, many of them don’t even cover all of the teeth. When something sits on the teeth it creates pressure and if the pressure is not even for all the teeth, it causes some teeth to grow longer and others to get intruded or pushed in shorter. These tooth movements can leave teeth uneven and looking strange. They also cause jaw problems, pain and broken teeth.
When a dentist designs a bite splint, he designs it to protect the teeth from uneven pressure and to prevent these harmful kinds of tooth movements. There are lots of products at the store and online. Some may be safe. Others are dangerous. If you think you’ve found something that will help your problem, bring it in and we’ll help you figure out if it’s safe.
“When I arrived in Dr. Bec’s office, I’d been in pain for 8 months. At first it only hurt every once in a while. It would hurt, but it would go away. Every time it hurt, I would think that I probably was going to need another root canal but then it would stop hurting.
Eventually the pain was constant, all the time, every day. I knew I needed to go in for help, but I couldn’t tell which tooth was causing the problem so I kept trying to figure it out. One whole section of my mouth hurt. Sometimes the top teeth. Sometimes the top teeth and the bottom teeth. Sometimes more towards the back of my mouth. Sometimes more toward the front.
The pain started to change my life and not in a good way. I finally decided I couldn’t stand it any more. I couldn’t drink or eat anything hot on that side. I love my hot coffee, but I was stuck drinking lukewarm coffee or none at all to avoid the jolts of pain. It was so miserable! The pain was waking me up at night and I was getting up in the middle of the night to take Advil just to be able to sleep. I could only chew on one side. I was afraid this was going to be my new normal. It was awful!
Dr. Bec had helped my daughter fix her jaw pain and headaches. She said that I should go see him for my pain. When I made it to see Dr. Bec, he told me that my pain wasn’t a tooth problem at all. Here I thought I needed root canals and he said that my pain was being caused by an imbalanced bite. He said that he could try to fix it with a occlusal splint. It sounded kind of crazy, but it FIXED MY PAIN!!
It feels like a miracle! It’s crazy that it works! After the first night, the pain was already getting better. After a week, it was gone – totally and completely gone! I can eat whatever I want on either side of my mouth. I can drink hot, hot coffee all day long with no pain. I’m sleeping at night – no more waking up to take Advil. It is amazing! Thank you, Dr. Bec!!!” – Patricia S. nightguard patient
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