In the past, it was believed that teeth grinding was a result of stress, until it was discovered that even a fetus in utero grinds their teeth. Research now postulates that tooth grinding originated as an instinctive response to help us survive.
Tooth grinding, also called bruxism, happens when the brain enters deep sleep and the jaw and other muscles relax completely. This can easily cause obstruction to our airways as the tongue expands to almost twice its size in this deeply relaxed state. The tooth grinding as shown on scans of people sleeping happens spontaneously when the airways are blocked and an apneic event can occur.
Grinding disrupts deep sleep
The problem with grinding, although it is life-saving is that it disturbs our sleep. We automatically leave the state of deep sleep as we grind our teeth and muscles tense up. The state of deep sleep is where the regenerative processes of sleep take place.
In a state of deep sleep, human growth hormone (HGH) gets released. This hormone restores us in many ways, reversing aging, improving memory, tightening the skin, building muscles, and potentially warding off Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
“Apneic” events, or the loss of breathing during sleep, can have serious health effects and should be avoided by an alternative to bruxism. It can cause high blood pressure, stroke, depression anxiety or weight gain.
Although tooth grinding may be a survival mechanism, it does wear down our teeth, and those who grind their teeth violently may even break teeth or injure the tendons that support the jaw.
Who are at risk of Apneic events?
We won’t really know if we are tooth grinders unless we wake up with an aching jaw or a spouse complains about it. New studies have concluded that people at risk of apneic events are not always overweight, middle-aged men as urban legend would have it, but could be:
- Children with ADHD
- Petite women
- People who never breastfed
- Depressed and anxious people
The best way to know if you suffer from bruxism is to visit your dentist. Your teeth will show the effects of grinding your teeth at night while you sleep. You may also wake up with a sore jaw or headaches.
Visit your dentist and get the answers
Your dentist can check if your small airways are blocked, and will advise you as to what the best treatment for you will be. The new approach is to unblock the airways since they are seen as a cause of the grinding. But the mouth guard remains the first line treatment.
Although a mouth guard won’t stop you from grinding your teeth it will protect them from harm. Modern mouth guards are compact, discreet and made of flexible materials. But there are other possible causes of tooth grinding that your dentist will be aware of.
Teeth that are missing, or the misalignment of teeth, causing your jaw to be off-centre, might cause your tooth grinding. Your dentist knows the signs, and can read your teeth like an open book, even determining the reasons why you have bruxism.
Make an appointment today
Unfortunately, most people only visit a dentist after discovering that their teeth and jaw are being damaged through tooth grinding. By this time, your teeth may already be badly worn out.
Apart from supplying you with a mouth guard to limit damage, your dentist will discuss a plan to restore the damage done to your teeth by years of tooth grinding.
Thus, the sooner you make an appointment, the better off you will be. You’ll sleep better at night, and your teeth will be protected from your nocturnal tooth gnashing – your dentist may even be able to pinpoint the reason why you grind your teeth and help you to rectify it.