Bruxism:The Mysterious Case of Teeth-Grinding While Asleep

This is what happens to the teeth when grinding. (photo from http://www.medindia.net/patients/patientinfo/sleep/sleep_disorder_bruxism_tooth_grinding.htm)
This is what happens to the teeth when grinding. (photo from http://www.medindia.net/patients/patientinfo/sleep/sleep_disorder_bruxism_tooth_grinding.htm)

Ever been awakened in the middle of the night by a motor-like grinding noise?

I have, and it wasn’t the sound of cars or motors. The sound came from one of my cousins, whom I initially thought was snoring. I wanted to slap my cousin from her sleep to stop the grinding noise but my grandma stopped and even warned me that if I do, the “unusual” grinding would be magically transferred to me. So I let her sleep, with the constant fear that I might accidentally slap her and I’d end up as a roaring lawn mower myself.
It was only a few years ago when I discovered that it was a medical condition, when my boyfriend, at the time, casually mentioned it while having lunch. I shrugged it off and said that I probably got it from my cousin and he laughed, saying that it’s not some sort of contagious disease. The next day, we were at the dentists. 

The habit of teeth grinding, gnashing, grating and occasional teeth-clenching, or Bruxism, does not have a known exact cause. but most experts believe that bruxism occurs as a response to increased psychological stress. It often occurs while asleep (it can happen even in short naps) or even during  when awake, but it is bruxism during sleep that causes the majority of health issues. Bruxism does not usually cause harm, and it can be mild for some people to consider it a health problem, but when teeth grinding occurs on a regular basis the teeth can be damaged and other oral health complications can arise.

How can I tell if I grind my teeth while sleeping?

As grinding often occurs during sleep, most people are unaware that they grind their teeth. Many times they would learn about their teeth-grinding sessions thru loved ones  or partners who hear the grinding at night. But if you often encounter a dull, constant headache or you constantly have a  sore jaw, then you might be suffering from Bruxism.

When can Bruxism be harmful?

Severe teeth grinding can result in a fracturing, loosening, or even loss of teeth. The chronic grinding may wear their teeth down  and when this happens, all sorts of support for the teeth –  bridges, crowns,root canals, implants, partial dentures, and even complete dentures may be needed. The jaws can also be affected and can result to  hearing loss, Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (the joint between the ears and neck), and even change in facial appearance. Grinding may also be noisy enough at night to bother sleeping partners.

What to do if you think if you have bruxism?

Consult your doctor immediately so you can have a mouth guard or a bite guard  fitted. This will protect your teeth from grinding while you sleep. If you suspect it’s stress that causing your teeth-grinding in the sack, attend stress counseling or see a physical therapist.

To lessen the damage to your teeth, do not chew on anything that is not food. Doing so adds impact to your teeth, aside from the usual effort exerted for mastication.

You may now know it but your “grinding” may not be that entertaining to your partner. (photo from http://drperrone.com/blog/do-you-grind-your-teeth/)

Avoid chewing gum as it allows your jaw muscles to get more used to clenching and makes you more likely to grind your teeth. Train yourself not to clench or grind your teeth. If you notice that you clench your teeth even when wide awake, position the tip of your tongue between your teeth. This practice trains your jaw muscles to relax. Relax your jaw muscles at night by holding a warm washcloth against your cheek in front of your earlobe. Avoid alcohol and  anything with caffeine as these can intensify teeth grinding.

And no, it’s not contagious.  

Web References:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_causes_teeth_grinding_while_sleeping

http://www.medicinenet.com/teeth_grinding_bruxism/article.htm

http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001413.htm