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I Grind My Teeth. What Should I Do To Prevent Further Damage and Pain?

Dr. Ashly Cothern explains bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching), how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is the grinding of the teeth. This can be involuntary or habitual, and it’s typically done during one’s sleep. Most of us carry stress from about our temples to our shoulders. Guess what is right in the middle? Our teeth. Some people not only move their jaws side to side, but also squeeze them together, known as clenching. Astonishingly, we can put up to 270 pounds of pressure on our back teeth, the ones that receive the brunt of our bite, and only about 20 pounds on the front teeth.

Why do people grind their teeth when they sleep?

For many, it’s a habit or just involuntary stress relief. Another reason can be an indication that something is wrong with the teeth, such as pain from an infection or a cavity, and squeezing the jaws together or grinding the teeth seems to make the pain feel better.

What are the long-term effects/damages of teeth grinding?

Over time, we can wear through the protective layer of the tooth, known as the enamel. When that happens, the second layer which houses the nerve, is left and the dentin is exposed. The dentin is seven times more likely to be sensitive, become stained, and get a cavity. It is simply softer than enamel and without its shell, is exposed and more vulnerable to all the aggravating things we do or put in our mouths. Eventually, jaw joints can break down by being overworked which can introduce popping, clicking, and pain.

I’m not sure if I grind my teeth or not at night? How can I tell?

Just because you don’t have pain in your joints or facial muscles doesn’t mean you don’t have this sneaky habit. Your dentist can look at the soft tissue of your mouth (cheeks, lips, and tongue) and your tooth structure and biting pattern to determine if you grind and or clench.

What treatments are available to help avoid teeth grinding?

A custom nightguard is the best option. There are many types of nightguards on the market, but we believe that having your dentist make one for you is the best method to get a proper fit and to allow your joints to become stable and harmonious. Nightguards do not necessarily keep you from grinding or clenching but can buffer the amount of pressure that you apply to the teeth and joints. Nightguards can add life to your teeth, joints, and existing dentistry (fillings, crowns, implants, veneers).

If tooth damage is already done from grinding my teeth, what are my options to correct the damage?

The only way to correct the damage is to have the lost tooth structure rebuilt using a restorative material (composite filling, porcelain, or a metal).

What should I look for in a qualified dentist to treat bruxism?

Grinding and clenching can be tricky to treat, so it is important that your dentist takes all the proper measurements in order to give you the best-fitting nightguard that will set you up for success.

About the Expert

Dr. Ashly Cothern has designed a dental practice around several pillars – to offer the most technologically-advanced and effective dental care available, and to offer the most comfortable dental care experience possible. Patients appreciate her wide array of services and her gentle touch. She attends numerous continuing education each year from prestigious institutions, including the Pankey Institute, Spears Institute, and Jameson Management, to remain on the forefront of dental care. A graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry, she is also an active member of several professional dental associations.

Dr. Cothern has a strong sense of connection to each patient. She and her staff make patients feel comfortable and at ease by offering nitrous oxide, sedation, a massage chair, music, movies, and even a cozy pillow and blanket. Her office specializes in the latest cosmetic procedures, including porcelain veneers and crowns, implants, BOOST Power Whitening System, Invisalign braces, and metal-free fillings.

Dr. Cothern designed her practice to have a friendly, boutique-style feel. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be greeted with smiles and treated like family. The practice utilizes the latest technology, sending appointment reminders and confirmations via email and text. A recipient of numerous professional awards, Dr. Cothern has been named a Best Dentist in Dallas in D Magazine multiple times. The Consumer’s Research Council of America named the practice one of the best in America, and Best of the U.S. ranked her practice in the top three percent of U.S. dentists.

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