We like to think we're more prone to stress in our modern, fast-paced world than those who lived in "simpler" times, but a finding from the recent discovery of Richard the III's remains in England suggests differently. Investigators noted the king had well-worn teeth, perhaps from grinding them out of stress.
We can't be sure this was the cause for the king's dental problems, or if teeth grinding was common in the 15th Century. But we are sure the problem exists today among adults.
Tooth grinding is the grinding, gnashing or clenching of teeth involuntarily when not engaged in regular dental functions like eating or speaking. It can occur while a person is awake, but most often while they're asleep.
The habit regularly occurs in children, but is not considered a major problem as most outgrow it by adolescence, usually with no lingering damage. Not so with adults: Because the habit generates abnormally high biting forces, teeth grinding can lead to accelerated tooth wear. It can also weaken teeth, making them more susceptible to fracture or disease.
People who grind their teeth will typically awaken with sore jaws or the complaints of family members about the loud chattering noise emitted during an episode. If you suspect a problem, you should see your dentist for a definitive diagnosis, and to learn how to reduce its occurrence and effects.
Treatments for the habit vary depending on underlying causes. They may involve lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco, limiting alcohol or altering your use of certain drugs or medications. Because stress is often a major factor, learning better relaxation techniques through meditation, group therapy or biofeedback may also help reduce teeth grinding.
These treatments, though, can take time, so you may also need ways to minimize the effects of the habit in the meantime. One of those ways is for your dentist to create an occlusal guard that you wear while you sleep. The guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact, thus reducing the potential biting forces.
It's important, then, to see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect you're grinding your teeth. Finding out as early as possible and then taking positive steps to stop or reduce its effect can save your teeth from a good deal of harm.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teeth Grinding.”