Bruxism is a medical term used to describe the habit of grinding, clenching, or gnashing teeth, often involuntarily. It’s a common condition that can occur during sleep (sleep bruxism) or while awake (awake bruxism). Many people may not even be aware that they grind or clench their teeth, since it often happens unconsciously.
Bruxism is hugely damaging to both your teeth and your gums, especially over a long period of time. Learn more about the causes and potential long-term impact of bruxism.
Why Do People Develop Bruxism?
Common causes of bruxism are not entirely understood, but it is believed to be a combination of factors, including:
- Stress and anxiety
- Malocclusion (poorly aligned teeth)
- Sleep disorders
- Medications (e.g., certain antidepressants)
- Lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking, alcohol, caffeine)
- Response to pain (e.g., from an earache or teething)
If any of these reasons contribute to your condition, it’s important to consult a health care professional about correcting the origin of the problem.
An Alexandria, Virginia, Dentist Explains the Long-Term Impact of Bruxism
Dr. Mojgan Mazhari of Alexandria Dental Health & Smile Studio outlines some of the complications caused by bruxism.
“Dentists can tell whether or not you grind your teeth during your checkup. For patients who have suffered from bruxism for years, the teeth will actually flatten and have an even, square appearance,” she says in this article. “The teeth wear themselves down, so all the teeth become shorter. The effect becomes increasingly noticeable if bruxism gets treated.”
Grinding your teeth can also:
- Damage dental restorations such as crowns or fillings, resulting in premature failure and eventual replacement.
- Cause chips and fractures due to the immense pressure placed on teeth. You may notice your teeth have visible cracks in them or that they’ve sustained chips that you don’t remember happening.
“The jaw is able to move thanks to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which attaches your lower jaw to your skull. Bruxism can place stress on the TMJ, leading to jaw dysfunction and chronic pain,” she says. Symptoms of a TMJ problem include unexplained headaches, muscle tension in your face or neck, pain when chewing or speaking, or an inability to open your mouth all the way.
Bruxism wears down teeth prematurely, which means the shiny protective layer over your teeth—we know it as tooth enamel—can get worn away over time. “Once your tooth enamel is gone, there’s no way to replace it. Instead, the softer tissue underneath your enamel—called dentin—is exposed. Dentin is not only more yellow in color, but also allows harmful bacteria into your tooth to cause cavities,” Dr. Mazhari explains.
“Grinding your teeth also places stress on your gums and the connective tissue which help to hold your teeth in place, therefore leading to periodontal damage,” she adds. When connective tissue that helps anchor teeth is damaged, it can lead to loose teeth. If you grind your teeth, gum tissue may become inflamed and look red or irritated, especially over a long time.