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Your go-to guide on teeth grinding

Headaches, tooth sensitivity and neck pain are all signs of this common habit

Jaw aches, headaches and neck pain are the kind of things a lot of us experience. While there can be many causes, a common reason comes down to teeth grinding, something that people often do without realising. And as dentists will tell you, a growing number of us are doing it more than ever.
"Bruxism is the medical term that refers to the involuntary act of grinding or clenching the teeth," explains dentist Dr Gamer Verdian.
You might sometimes catch yourself clenching or grinding your teeth when you're stressed or concentrating. However, it mostly occurs during sleep, so it's possible you may not know you're doing it. "Many people with nocturnal bruxism remain unaware of their condition until symptoms appear or until a dental professional notices telltale signs of tooth wear," Gamer says.

WHAT CAUSES IT?

Bruxism is surprisingly common in children, although most eventually outgrow it. However, it can happen during any stage of life, especially when we're stressed.
"We have seen a huge spike since COVID as the daily stresses of life are magnified," Gamer continues. "Potential factors include increased daily stresses, lifestyle changes and perhaps even an increase in sleep disorders."
Night-time bruxism is common in people with sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnoea. Smoking, alcohol and some medications can also increase your risk.

HOW COMMON IS IT?

It's hard to tell exactly how many Kiwis have bruxism, given that many people don't even know they have it. Some researchers estimate between eight and 31%, however, Gamer believes it could be a lot more common. "In some studies, 80% of the population experiences some form of bruxism that may be difficult to diagnose," he says.

THE SYMPTOMS

Over time, grinding and clenching can wear down the hard layer of enamel on our teeth. This can make them flatter and shorter, causing other problems like cracks and tooth sensitivity.
"The most common presentation we see in our practices is unexpected chipping or breaking," Gamer says.
Additional signs include headaches, face and neck pain, soreness in the jaw, or a popping feeling when chewing, yawning or speaking. Excessive grinding can also build up the masseter muscle of the jaw, causing the bottom half of the face to appear wider. If night-time clenching and grinding is loud enough, it can cause partner disturbance.
"Long-term bruxism can lead to a range of complications," Gamer says. "This includes temporomandibular joint disorders, myofascial pain, dental complications like tooth loss and even changes in facial appearance."

CAN I STOP IT?

Clenching and grinding can be difficult habits to shake, especially since many of us aren't aware it's happening.
Gamer says the most common treatment for bruxism is to wear a nightguard or occlusal splint. They start at around $500, but they may cost more depending on what your dentist recommends. "These are our most common frontline defence against bruxism," he explains. "There are many different types and designs. They offer a protective barrier between the upper and lower teeth, reducing wear."
Some dentists now provide Botox injections, which work by relaxing the masseter muscle. This typically costs between $400 and $1000, but Gamer explains the effects aren't permanent.
"They offer temporary relief and can come with side effects," he says. "Long-term medication use isn't typically recommended as a primary solution for bruxism."
Depending on the cause, it can sometimes help to get to the heart of the problem. For instance, if stress is your main trigger, strategies such as meditation, deep breathing or counselling could be beneficial.
"While bruxism can't always be cured in the traditional sense, it can be effectively managed," says Gamer. "Interventional strategies depend largely on the underlying causes and the patient's specific symptoms."
Affordable dental options will give you something to smile about!

SAVE YOUR SMILE

It sometimes pays to put your money where your mouth is.
As the cost of living continues to bite, it might be tempting to cut back on dental visits. But staying up-to-date with your appointments can save you money in the long run. Luckily, there are now some dental clinics who offer low-cost services, such as cleans and minor check-ups, simply by lowering overheads and passing the savings on to customers. Some clinics also offer plans or interest-free loans, so it pays to shop around.

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