Everybody handles excess stress differently. Some people develop an ulcer, some people develop high blood pressure, and some people grind or clench their teeth.
Stress, it's now believed, is the major cause of grinding and clenching your teeth, say dental researchers. In the past, a malocclusion (the way your teeth fit together) got the blame, and dentists would grind the teeth down, trying to readjust the bite.
In a small percentage of cases, sleep patterns are responsible. The reasons children grind remain unclear.
The problem with bruxism, as the habit of grinding and clenching is called, is the wear and tear on your teeth. When you grind your teeth, you can wear away tooth enamel. This can lead to sensitive teeth and tooth decay, and it can also cause damage to expensive dental work. Finally, grinding taxes the muscles and joints of the temporomandibular (jaw). Prolonged grinding may damage the jaw joint enough to cause osteoarthritis as well as bone loss in periodontal (gum) disease, although it does not actually cause gum disease.
Teeth-grinding is thought to be hereditary. It's also related to gender: Three times as many women as men grind their teeth. Bruxism is most common in those between 20 and 40 years of age.
Ironically, the regular grinder may do less harm than the intermittent grinder--sort of like the weekend athlete who's not in shape for intense activity. The regular grinder can wear down teeth, but his or her muscles get stronger from the habit.
Clenching may do more harm than grinding because, although your jaw is designed for chewing, it is not designed for clenching. As a result, clenching can cause degeneration in the joint.
People who grind are usually aware of their habit, too. They wake up with a stiff or tired jaw, or their spouse hears the noise during the night. Clenchers, on the other hand, may be ignorant of their problem. Some people clench all day and don't realize it, although they do find that they have jaw pain that increases throughout the day.
In this article, we'll give you some tips to quit bruxing and ease the discomfort that comes with it.
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