Are you a teeth grinder or a jaw clencher? If so you're part of an ever-growing number. The stress of the pandemic has seen cases of a teeth-grinding (aka bruxism) rising according to dentists. "In the past few months, I have seen a 40 per cent increase in patients with issues related to teeth grinding such as a painful jaw," says dentist Dr Ruth Baidoo of the Forum Dental Studio in Lincolnshire . At Dr Hanna Kinsella's Kin Lane Dental clinic in St Helen's, there's been a 50 per cent rise in cases.
"I put it largely down to the stress that many people have found themselves under as a result of lockdown and the lifestyle changes this has brought, from job losses to trying to juggle homeschooling and working, and the worry about family members," she says.
Most teeth grinding cases are indeed caused by stress and anxiety - the NHS estimates up to 70 per cent. What's more, most of us do it. Dr Rhona Eskander of the Chelsea Dental Clinic sees it in 90 per cent of patients. "In my clinic, nine out of ten clients suffer from bruxism, due to a hectic lifestyle and the strain of daily life."
It's generally a nocturnal habit, but some of us do it during the day too without noticing. Not only does teeth grinding damage and weaken our teeth, leading to more fillings and cracked crowns, because it often happens at night it can have a dramatic impact on the quality of our sleep, leaving us feeling unrested and foggy even if we've been out for the count for eight hours. It can cause migraines and even change the shape of your face as we inadvertently bulk up our jaw muscles.
We took a seat in the dentist’s chair to find out what causes teeth grinding and what to do about it.
Why do we grind our teeth?
1. You're under stress (or drinking too much coffee)
Stress is a big factor in teeth grinding, Dr Milad Shadrooh aka The Singing Dentist tells us. Episodes of teeth grinding often tally with stressful life events, for instance, sitting exams, moving house, losing a job or starting a new one , trying for a baby or becoming parents or divorce. This can mean that teeth grinding comes and goes, but once you start teeth grinding it can become a habit, so even when the stress passes, you're still grinding. "Daytime grinding generally tends to be associated with stress or abnormally high intakes of caffeine," confirms Dr Emma Cunningham of Dr Emma Clinics in Ireland.
2. Your teeth don't fit well together
At night our jaw muscles can become hyperactive. If our teeth don't fit together properly (known as unbalanced occlusion) it causes our muscles to go into overdrive result in teeth grinding, says Dr Emma. “A history of complex dental treatments, can also be a factor," says Dr Milad Shadrooh. For example, if you’ve had braces in the past, you may be more likely to clench your jaw and grind your teeth.
3. You're a teething toddler
“As for children, teeth grinding normally goes away by itself. It can be associated with teething, but usually kids grow out of it. It’s in adults that we see the biggest problems," says Dr Shadrooh.
4. You're straining too much when you exercise
If you're a fan of lifting weights at the gym , you could be jaw clenching regularly without realising it. According to a survey by 'medtech' company Renew Health, 80 per cent of weightlifters clench their jaw during lifting sessions, which can result in earache, headache or tooth pain, as well as eroding your teeth.
What are the side effects of teeth grinding?
1. It can change the shape of your face
"Clenching and grinding our teeth daily is effectively given a rigorous, frequent workout for the jaw muscle, which increases in size as a result," says Dr Zainab Al Mukhtar of Harrow on the Hill Dental . "Patients often complain that they feel they have a widened jaw, that leaves their face looking larger than they would like and ‘square’ in appearance."
2. It can chip your teeth
“Internal signs of grinding our teeth include tooth wear," says Dr Milad Shadrooh. "The canines flatten out and the incisor teeth are often chipped or uniformly flat. Teeth fractures are another sign and are especially common in teeth that have fillings, as the force involved in teeth grinding causes tiny breaks in brittle teeth."
Tiny lines in teeth (called enamel craze) are also often telling of tooth grinding and you'll also often see tooth marks or indentations in your cheeks.
3. It can cause headaches, migraines and jaw pain
Tooth grinding can trigger not only tooth sensitivity and jaw pain but migraines , tensions headaches and shoulder pain. Other tooth-grinding evidence includes waking up with a sore jaw, a headache or having a migraine.
4. It can cause daytime tiredness and brain fog
"Sleep problems are commonly related to teeth grinding," says Dr Shadrooh. When we grind our teeth our brain is still active and we don’t go through REM sleep, the kind that lets your brain really switch off and process your day. As such, if you grind your teeth you'll often wake up feeling groggy despite getting a full eight hours sleep and it can have a real impact on cognitive activity and ability that day."
What are the solutions for teeth grinding and jaw clenching?
1. Ask your dentist for a bite splint for teeth grinding
Dentists will often recommend a bite splint (like a gum shield) to people who are grinding their teeth. It's normally worn at night over the top or bottom teeth and stops you from grinding.
Our Editorial Director's life was transformed when she had one made ten years ago. "It costs a fortune, around £600, but I really can't put a price on how it improved my sleep. From the first night I wore it, it was as if someone had turned up the volume on my dreams I felt so much more rested in the morning," she says. "It's so true that teeth grinding keeps you out of restorative REM sleep. It's the best investment I've ever made and it is now, without exaggeration, my most treasured possession."
While bite splits are designed to stop the side effects of teeth grinding rather than curing it, they can work to de-programme the habit of teeth grinding as they reduce the force of the jaw, says Dr Milad Shadrooh.
To create a custom bite splint, a dentist takes an impression or digital scan of the teeth. Because it is tailor-made it fits snugly and is in a firm yet pliable material, making it comfortable to wear all night.
You can have a bespoke bite splint made cost from £100 to £300. Over-the-counter options, such as sports guards are available until you can get a custom-made one. "Over-the-counter options tend to be less comfortable and don’t last as long as one made by your dentist," says Dr Ruth Baidoo.
2. Book in for botulinum toxin injections for teeth grinding
Another treatment that’s often combined with a dental splint is botulinum toxin injections (presenter Nadia Sawalha has been treated with botulinum toxin for bruxism). "Botulinum toxin works to freeze and deactivate the muscle, so used in a targeted way it can reduce the bulk of the jaw muscle. This means that you’re less likely to grind your teeth," says Dr Milad Shadrooh.
"Botulinum toxin in isolation is also not a long-term solution as it wears off. Combine botulinum toxin therapy with a dental splint, in my experience, is a treatment that’s 95 per cent effective in treating and stopping teeth grinding," he says.
3. Try facial massage tools or treatments for teeth grinding
Gua sha massage is good at releasing tension so in turn, can help with grinding or clenching of the jaws and teeth. "The ancient practice of gua sha works to release the fascia, relax muscles and lift the weight of the whole area you're working on," says gua sha expert facialist Ada Ooi.