When you are grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, it’s called bruxism.
Bruxism is split into two different types: Sleep bruxism is characterised by sufferers grinding their teeth at night and/or contracting their jaw. Awake bruxism is characterised by a lack of grinding teeth but involuntary clenching and bracing of the jaw is still present.
Grinding is when you slide your teeth back and forth over each other. Clenching means you tightly hold your top and bottom teeth together.
Most people aren't even aware they are grinding their teeth until their partners tell them or advanced symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches and worn down, sensitive teeth start to emerge.
People who suffer from bruxism may have one or more of the following symptoms:
Fractured, chipped or loose teeth
A dull headache, sore jaws and/or ear pain
Aching teeth, and stiffness in the face and temples, particularly after you've just woken up
Sore jaws while you're eating, especially at breakfast time
Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks
Intense jaw clenching
Marking from pressing your teeth into your tongue
Problems caused by tooth grinding
Teeth grinding places a lot of pressure on your teeth, cracking their protective enamel, fracturing them and breaking things like crowns and fillings, while placing great stress on your jaws joints and muscles.
You might also find your teeth are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and more painful to bite down on as the fibre that attaches them to the bone gets inflamed.
Bruxism causes and treatment:
Stress and anxiety, sleep disorders and a bite that's not normal may play a role, but what's causing to grind your teeth may not be known for sure.
The range of likely causes of bruxism are physical and psychological meaning that any treatment will often need to address both these things. Your dentist, of course, will take care of the possible physical causes such as overly-high fillings, or missing or crooked teeth, and may fit with a custom-made mouthguard if you grind your teeth at night.
Your dentist can see if you have bruxism by checking for unusual wear spots on your teeth and looking for any related symptoms. Regular dental check ups are important to find damage at early stages. Your dentist will also help you manage bruxism and related symptoms and well as repair your teeth if necessary and prevent further damage.
But if the source of your teeth grinding is emotional, or caused by illness, poor nutrition or long term pain, it's important to deal with these issues ahead of seeing your dentist by contacting organisations like Lifeline (131 114) and Beyond Blue (1300 224 636).