We have many nervous habits such as tapping a foot, twirling hair, and cracking knuckles. Often we aren’t even aware we do them unless someone points them out. What they have in common is that they’re an unconscious way to release stress and anxiety.
Sometimes, these nervous tics can lead to other health issues. Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw is one example. Referred to as bruxism, it can cause hyper-sensitive teeth, aching jaw muscles, headaches, changes in your bite, tooth wear, and damage to crowns and fillings.
There are two main types of bruxism: one occurs during sleep (nocturnal bruxism) and one during wakefulness (awake bruxism). People who clench or grind their teeth during sleep are more likely to have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and pauses in breathing (sleep apnea).
Because you may have bruxism and not be unaware of it until complications develop, it’s important to know the signs you are grinding your teeth so you can seek regular dental care.
Treatment depends on the cause. Mild bruxism may not require treatment. To treat bruxism, your dentist may create a custom-fitted mouth guard to protect your teeth while you sleep. Your dentist may also encourage you to find ways to relieve stress throughout the day and to try relaxing your jaw muscles before bed. If medical problems exist, they also need to be treated. Sometimes, a combination of treatments is best. Your dentist is the best person to guide you.