Clenching and grinding your teeth puts pressure on the muscles, ligaments and nerves, and grinding with lateral movements shortens and blunts the teeth being ground and may lead to myofascial muscle pain, temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction and headaches.
The grinding of the teeth can wear away the enamel on the tooth surfaces and expose the softer inner dentine. This can allow tooth decay and also make the teeth vulnerable to fracture and collapse, especially if they have been previously weakened by fillings or other dental procedures.
In severe cases, bruxism can lead to arthritis of the TMJ.
Since teeth grinding is often an unconscious activity carried out during sleep, it can cause problems not only for the grinder but also for anyone trying to sleep alongside them, and become a quality of life issue.
It is not always clear why people grind their teeth, although many people do: the condition affects approximately 8% of the population. There seem to be correlations between bruxism and stress and anxiety; the condition is found more frequently in people who have sleep problems such as snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnoea; and certain lifestyle factors such as the excessive use of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine are associated with teeth grinding.
The most common and effective treatment involves protecting the teeth during sleep with a bite guard (sometimes called splints, occlusal bite guards, bruxism appliances, bite plates, or night guards). Bite guards are typically made of plastic and fit over some or all of upper and/or lower teeth. The guard protects the teeth from being worn down and can reduce muscle strain by allowing the upper and lower jaw to move easily with respect to each other. It also reduces the noise of grinding. Bite guards are only a method of control and will not cure the condition.
Behavioural treatments such as hypnosis, relaxation techniques and meditation may also be helpful.
There is some evidence that biofeedback techniques may reduce the incidence of teeth grinding: biofeedback systems automatically detect the start of grinding and provide a conscious or subconscious signal – such as a quiet sound that increases in volume until the grinding stops, or a mild electrical impulse - to the user so that they can stop grinding. After daytime practice, users learn to relax in their sleep when the signal occurs, without waking up.