The Effects of Teeth Clenching
It’s easy to imagine that all you need for optimal oral health (especially the condition of your teeth) is a good diet and mouth cleaning habits. Unfortunately, there are other habits like teeth clenching which can easily cause destruction to your teeth. Teeth clenching (whether during the day or at night) is a common condition affecting millions of both adults and children.
So, why am I clenching my teeth?
How do you define teeth or jaw clenching?
Teeth and/or jaw clenching is one of the manifestations of a bigger problem known as bruxism.
Its unfortunate counterpart is teeth grinding, and they could occur together or one can act alone.
‘Clenching teeth’ is the static and sustained contact of both your sets of teeth using the jaw muscles responsible for closing the mouth. It’s a para-function, meaning it’s dysfunctional – not the intended purpose of the jaws.
Why is clenching my teeth harmful to my dental health?
Teeth clenching is a major problem because it wears out your chewing system.
Have ever asked yourself ‘why do my teeth hurt from clenching my jaw?’
It is because you are straining them. The human chewing system, known as the masticatory system, is designed to work for just 45 minutes every day. This is usually enough time for you to have your three meals a day.
However, teeth clenching (whether done in the day or night), can easily add anything from minutes to five hours of “working time”, which is more than 500% the duration the system is designed to be functioning at.
This leads to overworking of the teeth and other parts of the system, making them weak and worn out. This results in a number of disorders and can create an environment in which other problematic dental conditions thrive.
Causes of Teeth Clenching
While scientists are yet to pinpoint exactly what causes teeth clenching, research shows the leading factor could be stress.
According to research, jaw clenching is a body’s way to fight stress. This happens because teeth clenching causes the brain to produce chemicals that help to fight stress.
In this self-preservation mechanism, teeth clenching helps protect vital body organs like reducing overproduction of acid in the stomach which leads to ulcers.
The chemicals also help control blood pressure and increase nutrient absorption in the small intestines. There are other causes of teeth clenching too, and they include;
- Sleep disorders such as hallucinations, talking in sleep, and apnea can all lead to the development of bruxism of which teeth clenching is part of.
- Poor lifestyle habits like smoking, alcoholism, and the use of other recreational drugs also contribute to the development of teeth clenching as a side effect or to deal with the strain caused.
- Some types of medication, especially those belonging to the group which selectively inhibits the re-uptake of serotonin (SSRI’s) that are largely used for the treatment of depression. These drugs, like the recreational drugs and other substances above, cause teeth clenching as a side effect of their use.
Symptoms of teeth clenching
At times, it may be hard to know whether you are suffering from teeth clenching, especially if it happens when you are asleep.
For this reason, it is always recommended that you consult a dentist for a comprehensive dental evaluation. Some of the symptoms of the condition include:
- Waking up in the morning with pain in the jaws or the jaws are tight
- Morning headaches that are caused by the prolonged tension of the jaw muscles which are placed under a lot of strain.
- Increased tooth sensitivity because the protective enamel layer of the teeth becomes gradually worn out and the nerves inside the teeth become exposed.
- Pain in the area surrounding your ears when yawning or chewing food. It can also result in the development of sinus pain.
- Swelling occasionally on the lower side of the jaw caused by the clenching.
- For those using dentures: dysfunctions and the need to keep adjusting them or even replacing them.
- Chronic pain in the neck and surrounding area – and when this is treated, relief only lasts for a short period.
If you observe these symptoms in yourself, we suggest consulting your doctor to rule out any other possible causes, and to get advice on the best method to fight the condition depending on the severity of your case.
The damage of teeth clenching to your dental health
Besides the symptoms, teeth clenching can lead to severe dental damage if it is not checked early. Some of the effects of this condition include:
• Cracked and crooked teeth – the excessive pressure placed on the teeth leads to the development of small cracks in the teeth. These gradually expand, causing cavities and allowing bacteria room to get inside the teeth. The teeth can also become misaligned because of the constant excessive pressure.
• Masseter hypertrophy – this is a term that refers to the enlargement of the jaws over time. This happens because teeth clenching acts as a workout for jaw muscles and makes them increase in size. This may affect your physical appearance.
• The overworking of the jaw muscles can also lead to bone and gum loss, which further lead to increased tooth root sensitivity.
• It can lead to adrenal stress syndrome since a dysfunctioning masticatory system has been shown to increase the cortisol levels in the blood.
Prevention and treatment of teeth clenching to prevent pain and dental damage
There are several practices and therapies you can use to prevent teeth clenching some of them include:
- Use mouth guards and splints – this is effective when one is asleep, and while mouth guards do not stop clenching, they redistribute the force of the clenching, preventing it from being exerted on the teeth.
- Avoid stress and anxiety whenever you can, and when it’s not possible, try to practice better ways of fighting it, like stress-relief exercises, and if necessary, counseling. Ignoring your stressful moments makes the body look for self-preservation alternatives.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol which affect the quality of your sleep, leading to clenching at night, since your body becomes physically depressed.
- In cases of severe teeth clenching, a muscle relaxant can be used to prevent the jaw muscles from clenching while asleep.
- You can train yourself to be self-aware of the clenching, especially during the day. This can be done by keeping your lips together and teeth apart with the tongue in between.
It is not a guaranteed fix, but if stress seems to be the main trigger for clenching and/or grinding, it would make sense to take strides to lower your stress. How can we do this?
You are at your best when you’re optimal, and when are you optimal?
When you’re working out, eating healthy and taking charge of your life. Keep your body healthy. Keep your mind healthy and keep your stress levels down.
Wear a dental night guard to ease your jaw tension and stop the pain and teeth damage associated with teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
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