Everyday stressors like work, taking care of your children, staying on top of the pandemic, and economic uncertainty can lead to clenching and grinding your teeth which leads to as much as 250 pounds of force.

Since the pandemic began, dentists have reported an increase in tooth fractures attributed to bruxism. The increase in bruxism cases is likely due to stress and anxiety. Most patients aren’t even aware they’re doing it until either their dentist tells them they have tooth wear, or they start experiencing symptoms like jaw pain, headaches, neck pain, or plugged ears. More often than not, dentists will prescribe night guards to prevent further damage—but this might not be the best treatment for grinding teeth.

What’s Wrong With Night Guards?

mature man sleeping peacefully in bed

Night guards often come in hard plastic or soft rubber and are meant to protect your teeth from experiencing wear and tear. Recent studies suggest that they can be ineffective and potentially make your problems worse.

Experts, including those in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and orthopedics agree that there needs to be a shift in professional’s understanding of the treatment and causes of bruxism. Experts believe bruxism is behavior like burping or yawning and not a disorder. By treating bruxism with a night guard, you’re simply putting a band-aid on an underlying problem. The true treatment for bruxism is treating the reason you’re clenching or grinding your teeth in the first place.

Clenching and Grinding Possibly Related to Breathing Issues

Frank Lobbezoo, is a researcher and professional and chair of the Academic Center for Dentistry in the Netherlands and claims that bruxism isn’t abnormal. He claims that it might actually be good for you. According to sleep studies, the majority of people have bursts of jaw activity throughout the night usually during non-REM sleep.

This muscular activity can open up the airway to increase oxygen intake at night. Bruxism also stimulates the salivary glands to help lubricate the mouth and neutralize gastric acid. If you suffer from sleep apnea or GERD, it can actually be dangerous to wear a night guard or splint.

Causes and Overtreatment for Bruxism

There’s a widespread use of bite guards, Botox injections, and tranquilizers to stop people from grinding their teeth in order to protect teeth from wear. However, there is no evidence that the patterns of tooth wear reflect current grinding habits. Instead, tooth wear is more commonly associated with eating an acidic diet. When the pH becomes too acidic, it can wear away the enamel and trigger bruxism which as a result increases the pH in the mouth. In this case, treating bruxism effectively would require treating the cause of the bruxism—which is an acidic diet.

Overproduction of stomach acid during times of high stress can also lead to worn and cracked teeth and jaw pain. This can explain the increase dentists have seen since the beginning of the pandemic. When people have more anxiety, they also tend to drink more alcohol, which can result in overrelaxed neck muscles. As the neck muscles relax, it can cause obstructions to the airway which would increase bruxism habits.

Another possible reason for bruxism is poor sleep hygiene or bad posture. If you sleep lightly or have bad posture, it can cause you to clench or grind your teeth. Your daytime habits can also come to bed with you. So if you have a tight, clenched-up posture during the day, you will also have it at night.

Treatment Options

So how should you go about treating your clenching and grinding habits? It depends on your specific cause.

Physical Therapy

If you have a tight jaw during the day, you likely have a tight jaw during sleep. A physical therapist can teach you exercises on how to relax your jaw and breathe correctly.

Psychologist

Your daytime behaviors might contribute to your nightly bruxism habit. Visiting a psychologist to understand what those behaviors are and how to correct them can help you stop clenching and grinding at night.

Oral Posture

Your tongue should rest on the roof of your mouth, you should breathe through your nose, and your teeth should be apart. Pay attention to your oral posture during the day and continue to correct it. These habits will carry over into the night.

Modern Diet

One theory with growing evidence suggests that our modern diet of processed foods that require less chewing has caused our jaws to develop smaller and our jaw muscle to underdevelop. This can cause us to breathe through our mouths and rest our tongues on the bottom of our mouths. This is another instance where you should try to correct your oral posture.

Pillows and Mattresses

If your pillow and mattress are too soft, your mouth is more likely to fall open and cause you to drool. It can also cause the neck muscles to sag and obstruct the airway—both circumstances that can cause bruxism. Try switching to a firmer mattress and pillow.

Exercises

There are a few exercises that can strengthen your back, neck, and airway muscles to help prevent clenching and grinding at night. These include squeezing your shoulder blades together and holding, holding your arms up like a goal post, leaning into a doorway to stretch your chest, and also diaphragmatic breathing and singing.

Get Effective Bruxism Treatment In Aberdeen

Although bite guards can act as a nice bumper between your teeth, they don’t actually stop you from clenching and grinding. Bruxism is often the result of a breathing or airway problem. When you visit Kuhn Dental Associates, we will help you get to the root cause of your bruxism and provide you with an effective treatment.

First, we will go through an extensive diagnosis by performing a comprehensive exam. Dr. Grimshaw will evaluate your current jaw position, look at jaw growth, go through your medical history, and more. Then, Dr. Grimshaw uses TENS technology to relax your jaw muscles. Once your jaw is relaxed, she will use the J7 Evaluation system to test jaw joint movement and more to determine the best course of action for your treatment.

If you suffer from bruxism, don’t put a band-aid on it. Contact Kuhn Dental Associates at (910) 692-4450 for a treatment that identifies that root cause.