The most effective approach to the treatment of teeth grinding is undoubtedly investigating and treating the underlying cause – which is often a small airway. That might sound surprising but if we look at what happens at night when we grind the teeth everything will make sense: small airway prevents enough oxygen to come in and natural body response is to re-position the jaw to open the airway, grinding here is a side effect.
The earlier approach to management of teeth grinding involved encouraging the patient to wear a mouth guard during the night sleep. This protects the teeth from wear and tear, but wearing a mouth guard could often have the opposite effect in the long run because it realigns the jaw in a manner that could lead to worsening the TMD and blocking the airways even more. This eventually leads to increased teeth grinding because as said earlier, teeth grinding is the body’s way of opening an obstructed airway.
Asides causing excessive wear and tear on the teeth, people that grind their teeth may also experience persistent headaches, jaw pain, stiffness in the neck, and periodontal tissue damage which are the signals of TMJ disorder (dislocation of the jaw joint)
New treatment methods advocate addressing the root cause of teeth grinding – airway obstruction and TMJ. Once this underlying cause is treated, teeth grinding ceases.
The possibility of a small airway should first be considered for anyone who is unable to keep off teeth grinding.
How would you know that you grind your teeth?
Experience has shown that the majority of people that grind their teeth do not even know until they are told by their dentist. Here are some signs that may indicate you are grinding your teeth.
- Flat and worn teeth
- Bone loss
- Jaw pain
- Clicking jaw
- Sore muscles
What to Do If You Grind Your Teeth
If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, the first step you should take is to consult your dentist. The dentist will be able to affirm if you actually grind your teeth and determine the extent of wear that may have occurred to your teeth and jaw bone. Regular family or cosmetic dentists can’t do much about this problem. Most of them would go for an old method – mouth guard. Once your dentist confirms that you have ground teeth, your next step should be to find a TMJ dentist – a dentist that specializes in treating the jaw joint dislocation along with the teeth. Improper jaw joint positioning causes the collapsed airway that in turn makes you grind the teeth at night.
TMJ dentist will examine your jaw and determine the degree of jaw joint dislocation. Then a special oral appliance that will stabilize the jaw joint and keep the airway open while you sleep will be prepared. Read more here on the differences between regular mouth guard and TMJ mouth guard.