People who bite their fingernails when stressed, chew on a pencil if nervous or clench their jaw during activities such as sports competitions could be at greater risk for bruxism, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
Bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding, is the unintentional grinding or clenching of teeth that may cause facial pain. Bruxers (another name for those who suffer from bruxism) may bite down too hard unconsciously and at inappropriate times, for example, when they are sleeping. The condition is often associated with emotional stress.
"Bruxism is a very common problem, and is treatable if you see your dentist," says Ken Sutherland, DDS, a Delta Dental senior dentist consultant. “However, without help, bruxism can cause bigger problems."
Over time, bruxers may experience jaw pain, tense muscles, chronic headaches and sensitive teeth. Forceful biting when not eating can also cause the jaw to move out of proper balance. If bruxism is not treated, a patient may have to deal with serious injury to his or her tooth enamel or receding gums in some areas because of the damage done to the alignment of the jaw. If vigorous grinding occurs at night, it can lead to crumbling teeth and, in some cases, teeth can be worn down to the gum line.
Signs of bruxism
Because people are often not aware that they grind their teeth, it's important to be aware of the signs and to seek treatment if bruxism is suspected. Some signs of bruxism include:
- Tips of the teeth appear flat
- Tooth enamel rubbed off, causing extreme sensitivity
- Popping and clicking of the jaw
- Tongue indentations
Your dentist can examine your teeth to determine whether you may have bruxism and, if so, can suggest the best method of treatment. Bruxism therapy helps to change a bruxer's behavior by teaching him or her how to rest the tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut. Simply becoming aware of the problem can be enough to stop the habit. One of the best ways to stop teeth grinding is to remove the source of stress.