Bruxism, commonly called teeth grinding, occurs when the teeth rub together during sleep.
Oluwole Ajagbe, an assistant professor in the School of Dentistry's diagnostic services, says, " It is unknown why people do it, but it is related to stress and very destructive especially when one is under pressure." Some people grind for a few seconds while others grind for a few minutes. In most cases, the grinder is oblivious to the noise. Because they awaken only partially during the grinding, many remain unaware that they are grinding their teeth.
The potential damage and severe pain causes many sufferers to invest in wearing mouth guards based on boxers' gum shields. Some people can have hundreds of teeth-grinding episodes during a night. Teeth grinding is seen in more than 50 percent of normal infants at about the age of 10 months when they are teething. Teeth grinding in adults often begins between 10 - 20 years of age. Approximately 85-90 percent of the general population grinds their teeth to some degree at some point in their lifetime. Teeth grinding is audible in about 20 percent of cases.
Ajagbe says, "Generally it is first detected by a dentist because it causes excessive wear of the teeth. Often the front teeth of a grinder begin to look flat and their enamel tends to be worn away."
The pressure on the teeth during grinding can be more than 20 times greater than the force produced in normal chewing and biting. As a result, the incisor teeth can end up shorter with sharp edges and tiny chip marks, and canines can be covered in notches. "The condition can cause headaches, joint discomfort, and muscle aches, premature damage and even loss of teeth, as well as sleep disruption", said Ajagbe. Teeth can also work loose and tooth enamel can be lost.
Some people are lifelong teeth grinders while others may only do it during times of stress. Other causes tend to stem from the relationship between the upper and lower jaw and the way that the two come together. Certain medications have also been known to cause teeth grinding.
According to the team from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, some anti-depressants may cause teeth grinding because they suppress the activity of the brain chemical dopamine. One of this chemical's jobs is to control muscle activity, and reduced dopamine activity is thought to be the cause of the tremor in Parkinson's disease.
A second group of researchers have found that some drugs for depression may trigger teeth grinding. The Mayo researchers found that when they put a sufferer on another type of anti-depressant, the patient stopped grinding their teeth.
For people with chronic teeth grinding, the first step is to seek help from a dentist. Ajagbe says," Teeth-grinding can be treated with a dental device. This is a customized plate that is adjusted to your bite. It must be worn to bed every night to protect the teeth."
In some cases the problem can be solved by grinding down the top of a protruding tooth, or by sculpturing the bite so that the teeth come together in an even line. If that is not possible, a mouth splint or night guard may be the answer. Not only will it protect the teeth, it may help in the long term to stop or reduced the grinding. Another option is to deal with the source of stress or anxiety that may be causing the problem.