Grinding and clenching teeth are two common dental disorders that often go untreated. Although teeth grinding (bruxism) may happen at any time, clenching is a parafunctional disorder that can happen while sleeping. Both lead to loss of tooth surface.
Emotional and physical stresses are possible causes, but often the reasons are unknown. People with bruxism also tend to have broken sleep patterns, perspire heavily and exhibit other symptoms typical of stress. In rare cases, bruxism may be a side effect of medicines used to treat depression.
Grinding and clenching can chip the enamel, exposing dent in and causing teeth to become sensitive and causing hypersensitivity of teeth around gum margins. It also loosens, cracks, wears out and flattens teeth, causes pain to facial and masticatory muscles and recurrent morning headaches. If left untreated, bruxism may even lead to jaw muscle or joint problems and loss of teeth. A thorough evaluation of teeth and adjacent jaw muscles can help diagnose the problem.
Mouth guards: Professional treatment like a mouth guard — a custom-made plastic device that fits over teeth — protects them from grinding damage.
A mouth guard should be worn at the times when you're most likely to grind your teeth, especially while sleeping. These should be periodically checked for signs of wear so that can be repaired or replaced, when damaged. Stress reduction: Since stress also causes bruxism, regular jaw exercise can reduce stress around sore muscles. Alternative therapies like meditation and relaxation yoga also help.
Medication: In some advanced cases, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs are needed to relieve sore muscles or reduce stress.
Fixing damaged teeth: A dentist can best advice treatment after assessing the damage caused by bruxism. Use of crowns, bridges, partial dentures, root-canal treatment, implants and veneers may be needed.
Lifestyle changes: Avoid caffeine and caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, colas, tea and some health drinks since it tends to intensify the grinding habit. Para-functional habits such as nailbiting and pen-chewing allow the jaw muscles to get into a clenching mode and enhance bruxism, as does chewing paan masala.
Dr Kakar is a consultant orthodontist at Apollo Hospital and runs a private clinic in GK-II