The Effects of Teeth Clenching
It is easy to imagine that your oral health (especially the condition of your teeth) ends with 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.
Teeth that are clenching together is the static and sustained contact of both your sets of teeth using the jaw muscles responsible for closing the mouth. It is a para-function meaning it is dysfunctional and 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 up the minutes to even five hours 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 wearing them out. This leads to 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 while sleeping and apnea can all lead to the development of bruxism of which teeth clenching is part of.
• Poor lifestyle habits like smoking, alcoholism along with 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 reuptake of serotonin (SSRI’s) 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, they start having dysfunctions and you need to keep adjusting them or even replace them.
• Chronic pain in the neck and surrounding area and when treated you have relief only for a short period.
If you observe these symptoms it is better to consult your doctor to rule out any other possible causes and advise you on the best method to combat 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 of it is not checked early. Some of the effects of this condition include:
• Cracked and crooked – the excessive pressure placed on the teeth leads to the development of small cracks in the teeth. These in gradually grow to bigger ones which cause cavities and allow the 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 make them increase. This affects your 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 and some of them include:
1. Use of mouth guards and splints– this is effective when one is asleep and while they do not stop the clenching, they redistribute the force of the clenching preventing it being exerted on the teeth.
2. Avoid stress and anxiety wherever you can and where it is not possible to practice better ways of combating it like exercises and if necessary counseling. Ignoring your stressful moments makes the body look for self-preservation alternatives.
3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which affect the quality of your sleep leading to clenching at night since your body becomes physically depressed
4. In cases of severe teeth clenching a muscle relaxant can be used to prevent the jaw muscles from clenching while asleep.
5. You can train yourself to be self-aware 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/teeth damage associated with teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
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