Dental expert on the knock-on health effects of this bad habit
Louise Emma Clarke
Around 90 percent of us grind our teeth at times of stress. Dr Jocelyne Charest of the German Dental & Neuromuscular Clinic gives Louise Emma Clarke the lowdown on the knock-on health effects of this bad habit.
What is teeth grinding? Also known as ‘bruxism’, the subconscious clenching and grinding of teeth mostly occurs during sleep, and around 90 percent of us do it. It’s usually caused by stress, but most people aren’t even aware they are doing it until they are diagnosed during a dental check-up or told by a partner. However, some sufferers grind teeth in the daytime too, usually in situations that make them feel tense or anxious.
Is it always caused by stress? No, grinding can sometimes also be caused by the body’s reaction to teeth not being aligned properly.
What affect does grinding have on teeth? In most cases the condition is short-lived and does not lead to detrimental long-term effects. For chronic sufferers, however, constant teeth grinding will continue to wear your natural teeth down, causing a loss of proper dental function, tooth sensitivity, broken fillings, and damage to the jaw joint. When sleeping, biting force (the force at which the upper and lower jaws clench together) can be up to six times greater than when you are awake – which explains the extent and severity of the potential damage caused.
So what can we do to prevent it? If teeth grinding is related to stress, cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco may help. You may also want to seek advice on how to integrate various strategies into your lifestyle to help you relax. In some cases, professional counselling is advised. The most common fix proposed by dentists for grinding at night is a mouth guard, which prevents teeth along upper gums touching the teeth on the lower gums, hence protecting them from wear and damage. I would recommend consulting a neuromuscular dentist, who will examine your entire jaw and dental system as a whole, taking the muscles, tendons and skeletal structure into account. A custom-made mouth guard to wear at night designed by a neuromuscular dentist will not only absorb your biting force while you are asleep and prevent further damage to your tooth enamel, gums and soft tissue, but it will also move your jaw into the correct position so your muscles can relax. Open Sat-Wed 9am-7pm, Thu 9am-1pm. German Dental & Neuromuscular Clinic, Tiffany Tower, Cluster W, JLT, www.germandent.com (04 379 4722).
Dr Charest on more common conditions
Tooth sensitivity With this condition, you’ll feel twinges of pain or discomfort in your teeth during certain situations. You will need X-rays to show if there is decay or a problem with the nerve. Your dentist will also examine your mouth, looking for deep fillings and exposed root surfaces. Grinding your teeth can also contribute to sensitivity.
Dental phobia The generic fear of dentists and dental work sees sufferers experience anxiety attacks and other symptoms when visiting the dentist. The attacks can be stimulated by the generic smells, sights or sounds of a dental surgery. Modern dentists are now better trained and better equipped to deal with it.
Teeth discolouration Stains on tooth enamel can range from white streaks through to brown spots. If the enamel has worn away and dentine is showing through, you may notice a yellow tint. Some discoloration can be removed with professional cleaning, but many stains are permanent. Teeth can be whitened with a bleaching gel, but if discoloration is severe, a crown or veneer may be required to cover it. Dr Charest, German Dental & Neuromuscular Clinic, www.germandent.com.