I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in History of Art and had the privilege of attending the University of the Pacific Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco.

What is teeth grinding? How do I know if I grind my teeth at night?
Posted in Tooth Grinding by Dr. Mark Burhenne on Aug 09, 2010
"How do I know if I grind my teeth at night?"

This is a great question that you've asked and is a question that everyone needs to ask themselves. Most experts classify teeth grinding, or bruxism, as a habitual behavior and a sleep disorder. It can get ugly when it causes damage to your teeth, chewing muscles, and jaw joint. It can even change your everday facial expressions, so knowing whether or not you grind at night is a crucial step in preventing disfigurement of your teeth and chronic pain.

The dangerous part is that grinding teeth is a parafunctional habit, so we have no idea that we're doing it. Most grinders and clenchers (or bruxers) do not know what they are doing since they have been doing so since childhood and have grown accustomed to the effects of grinding.

But there are ways you can tell, one of which is just looking in the mirror. I can spot it across the room at a cocktail party; it's the "flatness" of the teeth that gives it away. The teeth of bruxers appear to be the same length, after being worn down by grinding every night.

It's not all about looks, though.

Teeth grinding can cause a whole host of issues in the body.

Most grinders have neck issues or pain in the facial muscles. When chewing gum or chewing beek jerky, their muscles fatigue very quickly.

When a bruxer goes to the dentist and stays open for a cleaning or for a filling, their cheeks start hurting as the chewing muscles tire quickly. The jaw joint may make clicking or popping noise.
Grinders may also suffer from earaches. Grinders may also have an overdeveloped-looking massetter (the major chewing muscle) that bulges out, especially while you chew. Is your face sore when you smile or chew?

Take a look in the mirror at your canine teeth, upper or lower. Are they pointy or are they flat? Are your centrals the same height as your laterals? Flat teeth at any age may mean you are a bruxer.

Teeth grinding also has a genetic component.

Do your parents or siblings brux? Bruxism is yet another trait you can inherit.
If you're a parent wondering if your child is grinding his teeth, have you tried sleeping in the same room as your child for a night? Many parents are shocked after sleeping in the same room as their children to hear the noise their children make as they grind their teeth.

Your partner can help you figure out whether or not you grind your teeth. I have a patient that always complained about a squeaking noise that he would hear late at night that kept him awake. One day I asked him if his wife had ever complained about hearing the noise and he said that she did not. It occurred to me later that day that she was grinding her teeth and making the squeaking noise. I asked her to come in (up until this point I had never met her) and confirmed that she was a grinder. She now wears a night guard at night and both are sleeping well.

Odds are that you a bruxer, as studies indicate that 70% of the population (or 95% if you ask the American Dental Association) exhibit some kind of bruxing behaviour. If you’re young, keep in mind that you might grind your teeth but experience few or none of these symptoms because you are used to the state of being a grinder. Fetuses exhibit bruxing behavior in utereo. So it may be all you know, and seem perfectly normal. I hope this list below gives you some ideas on how to know if you are grinding at night.

To know if you're grinding your teeth at night, ask yourself the following.

* Do you have dreams about teeth breaking or falling out?

* Do you have neck muscle issues?

* Do you have pain in your facial muscles?

* Do your cheeks hurt?

* Do you have earaches?

* Do you have a clicking sound in your jaw?

* Do all of your front teeth look like they’re the same length or they’re flat?

* Do you have generalized pain in the area below the ears?

* Are your parents or siblings bruxers?

* Does anyone else hear you grind at night?

* Does anyone hear you squeak at night?

* Are any of your teeth loose?

* Do you have teeth sensitivity?

* Do you have a white line on the inside of your cheek?

* Do you wake up in the morning with a dull headache?

* Are the edges of your tongue scalloped?

If you experience any of the above, you are probably grinding your teeth. Go see your dentist for help.

- Mark Burhenne DDS

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I know I grind my teeth. It's been going on for about 10 years now, and the damage is really getting obvious now.
I have no dental insurance, and like millions of other Americans, do not go to the dentist for that reason. I am 53 years old, and I am affriad it's too late for me.
What to do? I miss being able to smile.
By dcrom  Jan 06, 2011
I wear top dentures, and have chronic pain from arthritis, just had to replace my top cause they were ground down flat with the gum. Used to wear a bottom partiale but it got broke. if I got it fixed and another new plate would I have teeth and not just fake gums? My dentist just copied my old teeth so now I have new gums but barely any teeth.
By starbright1949  Aug 19, 2010
Dear im0ftheuniverse,

Bruxism is associated with shoulder, neck pain, headaches, focus and concentration issues, personality disorders, poor digestion,  inner ear problems, and last but not least, TMD (old word is TMJ). Bruxism will aggravate TMD, but can also cause TMD. Bruxism can cause muscles of facial expression to distort and make people misunderstand your mood. There is an association between sleep apnea and bruxism, albeit a poorly understood one. Bruxism, as you can see, is not to be taken lightly.

Mark Burhenne DDS
By askthedentist  Aug 11, 2010
Dear kshort49,

Sorry you had teeth break while grinding. Funny how reality and dreams can be the same! But you aren't alone. Teeth breaking is one of the most common types of dreams, second only to "falling" dreams. Now we just have to figure out what the significance is in dreams with both falling and teeth breaking!

The night guard, if properly made, will be snug but comfortable and will not fall out. It will detune your muscles and make you less efficient of a bruxer. Wear it for a few months and then, one night, sleep without it. You will then see what you've been missing.

Good luck!

Mark Burhenne DDS
By askthedentist  Aug 11, 2010
I did not know I was grinding when I went to the dentist complaining of a Sharp pain in a certain area.

The dentist told me nothing was wrong. I told him, Yes! there is! He looked again and found the back tooth was pointed and discovered i was grinding BUT never prescribed a night guard or anything. He made a cap for it.

The bad marriage was the cause of the grinding. I no longer grind since I got the divorce.

I traded the grinding for clenching -- I have a hard time opening my mouth in the morning and relaxing my facial muscles. I wake up often with a sinus headache. I constantly have pain in the back of my neck and sores all along the inside of my mouth and the popping jaw noise. I developed ringing in the ears too which i think is from clenching. Duriing the day isn't so bad when I try to concentrate on relaxing my mouth and not clench.

I sleep well -- the whole night until I wake up and UGH! have to TRY to relax my mouth and face.
By energylost  Aug 11, 2010
For many years I have had dreams that my teeth are falling out right into my hand-so wierd, but until I'm totally awake, it feels like it really happened. I never thought I was grinding my teeth. Lately, I've been under tremendous stress (no job, expired unemployment, may loose house, etc.) and have actually broken two teeth off at the gumline, I'm assuming from grinding them at night. My dentist is helping me get a mouth guard.

I'm afraid I would just spit it out when I'm sleeping, since I don't know what I'm doing when I'm asleep anyway. How do you keep it in?
By kshort49  Aug 10, 2010
What is the relationship between bruxism and TMJ or other conditions near the mouth/jaw, migraines and headaches, possibly ear/nose/throat as well?
By im0ftheuniverse  Aug 10, 2010
I got mine from TMJ caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis. I have completely worn down the tops of my teeth, and I cannot stand the mouth guard. Thinking some kind of coating might help - like diamond tips. LOL
By Angela53510  Aug 10, 2010
I've been a grinder for 30 years. I began with a soft plastic night guard but would bite through it within a month. I now wear a hard plastic night guard. It's made for me by an orthodontist. I have a new one made whenever I bite through the old one or I see cracks. Thankfully, this takes years as they are somewhat costly.

I believe it's very important to wear a nightguard if you have bruxism. As Dr. Burhenne mentioned there are many
problems that can/will occur if you don't have it treated.

BTW, another way I know I've been grinding heavily at night is if I wake up chewing. I sometimes dream I'm eating. Then I know I've really been grinding. Also, if my jaw aches or feels like
it's been used a good deal. Then I know it's been a heavy grinding night.

Some people try biofeedback. It didn't help me, but I know it's been useful for some. For me, I meditate. I don't know if it has helped, but I figure it couldn't hurt!
By Postop1  Aug 09, 2010
Gosh that's why all of my dreams about my teeth....
By thevivacious  Aug 09, 2010
Great contribution, thanks for this article. I have been a bruxer/grinder as long as I can remember.

Can you explain a little bit more about night guard options? I have seen them in my local pharmacy and wondered if there is a difference between the 'OTC' type and a tailored-fit type you may get from your dentist.

Also, I notice that my front teeth are extremely sharp. Do you know of grinding and bruxing was something the human species developed to maintain and sharpen our teeth in order to bite and chew different types of food? Just something I've pondered.
By im0ftheuniverse  Aug 09, 2010
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