You may have seen the posts floating around social media that say something along the lines of, “this is a reminder to unclench your jaw,” only to realize that you are, in fact, clenching your jaw and didn’t even notice. Wow, how long was I doing that? You ask yourself.

If this sounds familiar, aren’t alone; between election stress and the pandemic, dentists are reporting a noticeable increase in jaw pain and broken teeth, with teeth grinding to blame. There’s actually a name for it—bruxism—which the American Dental Association (ADA) says is a condition that involves clenching or grinding of the teeth (sometimes audible, other times not). If you’re not even aware you’re grinding your teeth in the first place, is there a hope of being able to stop? Here’s are the signs dentists advise you to look for before the problem really does damage to your teeth.

What causes teeth grinding?

The good news is that it can take years for teeth grinding to cause major dental issues, according to ARM & HAMMER Dental Care expert and dentist Derek Wallin, DDS. Dr. Wallin says that some of the easy-to-spot symptoms include headaches and jaw pain—especially upon waking—but over time, teeth grinding can actually wear down the enamel on the teeth. Not only can this lead to cavities, but research shows it can lead to hypersensitivity, change in jaw function and even fractures of teeth.

“Clenching and grinding teeth is extremely common, for most people who experience this it is typically episodic, meaning it comes and goes in episodes,” explains Dr. Wallin. “Typically, these are during episodes or periods of our lives that are more stressful; the most common times people grind their teeth are during changes in life-events, such as a moving, a job-change, relationship change, or other stressful events people experience.”

The good news is that action can be taken in the form of a trip to the dentist, where you can be checked for early signs of wear to your enamel (mentioning that you grind your teeth or clench your jaw during your regular teeth cleanings may also be helpful). But what if they find signs of bruxism? Here are the top three things you can do in order to get the proper treatment plan in place.

How to stop grinding teeth

1. Determine what type of bruxism you have

Researchers break bruxism up into two categories—awake bruxism and sleep bruxism—and the two seem to stem from different causes. Awake bruxism is often noted as a sign of stress, while sleep bruxism is considered a sleep disorder. “Curing” awake bruxism relies on the person to notice when they are clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth and stop, while there is no cure for sleep bruxism, which studies note occurs in roughly 13 percent of adults. Your dentist can help you determine which type you have after an examination and review of your habits.

2. Focus on stress reduction

When it comes to daytime teeth grinding, again, there isn’t so much a “cure” as cultivating mindfulness. Studies have found a direct correlation between bruxism and conditions such as anxiety and depression, meaning no matter your type of bruxism, there is a benefit to prioritizing your mental health.

“Patients who find their day-jobs are stressful—such as those staring at a computer screen all day—can also find themselves clenching throughout the day,” notes Dr. Wallin. “Any easy starting point to correct this is to make sticky notes and put them near your computer that say “STOP,” which reminds them to relax their jaw muscles.”

3. Get a mouth guard

Sleep bruxism is much more common, according to Dr. Wallin, who says, “By and large, the majority of people clench and grind their teeth while they sleep.” The most common treatment for sleep bruxism is occlusal splints, also known as mouth guards, which are made out of acrylic or vinyl, ideally custom molded to fit your teeth. It is also noted that some intraoral devices used as treatment for snoring can also help with sleep bruxism, if both are present.

“I recommend patients see their dentist for a specific night guard designed to fit their mouth and, more specifically, their parafunctional habit, [a fancy word for] a bad or abnormal habit,” advises Dr. Wallin. “…I also encourage my patients who feasibly can do so to wear their night guard while they work; [admittedly,] this works best for people who work from home or more independently at their place of work.”

If you grind your teeth at night and end up with a mouth guard, Dr. Wallin often recommends patients wear it during the day if possible. It is recommended to see your dentist for a mouth guard, in order to make sure it is custom fit to your specific bite. Not only are they more durable, but also, fitting it to your bite means they can be made with any wear-and-tear already present from bruxism taken into consideration. This is of course the more expensive option, but especially important if you have had any previous dental work done, such as crowns, that need to be accounted for.

“Night guards are a dental appliance that is designed to your mouth specifically, and there are features we design into the night guards that help to minimize certain and specific habits that are not possible to recreate in an over-the-counter night guard,” concludes Dr. Wallin. “I would highly recommend seeking the assistance of your dentist in order to properly diagnose and treat the condition, again ideally at an early stage.”

Next up, read this age-specific guide to getting a beautiful smile.

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