How Clenching Your Teeth Affects Your Dental Health

For many patients who diligently brush and floss their teeth every day (as well as patients who don’t), some habits that occur away from the bathroom sink can cause significant issues in spite of their hygiene routines. For instance, habitually grinding teeth can wear down their natural defenses, leading to a host of dental problems that can destroy your smile. Clinically known as bruxism, habitual teeth grinding is more common than many patients realize, affecting approximately 15-33% of children in the United States (according to WebMD).  If your smile suffers from habitually clenching your teeth, then your Lake Forest dentist, Dr. James Fondriest, can help protect your smile by diagnosing and treating the issue.

What is Bruxism?

The simple act of clenching teeth is common, usually in situations when a patient is physically tense due to stress or anger. If teeth are strong and healthy, then these occasional moments shouldn’t cause significant damage. Patients with bruxism grind their teeth together continually, often while they sleep at night. Experts believe the most significant cause of bruxism may be excessive stress and anxiety in a patient’s life. However, certain dental conditions, including crooked or missing teeth, can create an imbalance in your bite and lead to unconscious teeth grinding in unsuspecting patients.

Excessive Tooth Wear and Damage

The resilient enamel that surrounds and protects your teeth is meant to withstand a great deal of pressure. Made mostly of calcium and phosphate minerals crystals, tooth enamel relies on a steady supply of minerals from your teeth to remain strong. The protective layer is your teeth’s first line of defense against infectious bacteria, and helps them absorb the pressures of biting and chewing your food. When teeth grind together, the friction can scrape away the enamel, and eventually the dentin underneath that makes up the tooth’s main structure. Excessively worn teeth can further throw your bite off balance, and continued grinding can lead to cracked, fractured, broken, loose, or lost teeth.

An Increased Risk of Tooth Infection

Usually, tooth decay and cavity development begin with acid produced by oral bacteria that wears down your teeth’s enamel (acid erosion). The process may take time, and is only successful if poor hygiene habits allow bacteria the time to infect your teeth. If enamel is worn down due to bruxism, then tooth decay can develop much quicker as bacteria swarm the exposed tooth structure.

TMJ Disorder and Bruxism

Teeth aren’t the only parts of your smile to suffer from continuous grinding. The joints and muscles that power your jaw are also designed to withstand a high, though limited, amount of bite pressure. Your temporomandibular joints (TMJs) connect your lower jaw, or mandible, to the temporal bones located just below each ear. TMJ disorder describes a dysfunction with these joints and the muscles that surround them, often due to a bite imbalance and/or chronic bruxism. Interestingly, bruxism is both a cause and a symptom of TMJ disorder. The excessive strain of teeth grinding can damage the jaw’s joints, leading to jaw, mouth, and facial discomfort, as well as chronic headaches and earaches. Conversely, a jaw suffering from TMJ disorder can shift constantly or experience muscle spasms that cause teeth to grind together.

How to Treat Habitual Teeth Clenching

Unlike tooth decay and gum disease, there isn’t one specific treatment each stage of bruxism. The causes and effects of the condition are different for each patient, and treating bruxism often depends on addressing an underlying dental issue. For many patients, stress relief techniques can help alleviate jaw tension and pressure, halting the habit and reducing the risk of dental and overall health problems. Dr. Fondriest also offers a custom-made oral appliance, similar to a sports mouthguard, designed to protect your teeth from each other while you sleep.

About Lake Forest Dental Arts:

Aside from providing expert family and cosmetic dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.

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